Brother James Dominic Rooney is a Dominican brother studying for the priesthood at St. Dominic’s Priory in St. Louis. Br. James is participating on the Global Fellows immersion trip to Ethiopia.
In the pictures of Ethiopia’s countryside, one sees a picturesque landscape resembling that of Nevada or New Mexico in the United States. There is a green tint to the soil and one sees small desert foliage growing on vast planes of sandy, rocky soil (the name “soil” is applied here rather loosely). The mountains are beautiful, having small acacia trees growing here and there over their surface and down into the valleys. The mountains show signs of erosion from the top down, exposing the beautiful yellow and grey rocks underneath.
While this could be seen as something you could send home on a postcard of Ethiopia’s arid desert landscape, it is amazing to consider that none of this is normal. Most of us here have only seen the after effects of the long-standing drought here in Ethiopia. If we had been here a mere 30 years earlier, this whole desert landscape would have been a forest of acacia trees. One of the residents, describing the extent of what seems like “desertification,” said that, in normal circumstances, the mountains should be so covered by acacia trees and other foliage so that one should not even see the soil. Today, however, a very different picture presents itself––dry, hot desert.
It is amazing to think that human beings could live through something like this. It is even more so that they would attempt to change it. The local people, working with Harar Catholic Secretariat (the local version of Catholic Charities) and Catholic Relief Services have drafted plans to terra-form the environment back to a state in which the water table will be replenished. As one travels through the countryside, one will see the vast terracing which these two entities, together with USAID food supplies from the US federal government, have encouraged through food-for-public-works programs. These terraces are on most of the mountains, all the way up and down on most, and in the valleys. Their purpose is to prevent the soil from eroding as well as to prevent rainwater from running off the mountains, away from the water table beneath the ground, and escaping the area entirely, leaving it as dry as before.
Harar Catholic Secretariat and CRS do not directly engage in re-forming the local environment––the people here do that. Similarly with all their programs, CRS engages in programming which relies on subsidiarity. CRS cannot make people better off; only the Ethiopian people can do that for themselves. CRS merely provides options for the people to improve their own life, on their own terms, through technical assistance. Usually, this is done through education in basic economics and new agricultural techniques (such as planning where and how to terrace the mountains).
The Ethiopian resilience and fortitude has been amazing. The people of Ethiopia have a vision and the will to lay a foundation for their own future and the future of their children. They already have the virtues and the internal strength, but only we can help them have more options in order to escape the dire conditions they are in. How courageous are we––am I?––in supporting these people make a better life for themselves?
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