Ethiopia Visit: Good Work, Real Development

Fr. Chris Trenta is a priest in the diocese of Cleveland. Fr. Chris is participating on the Global Fellows trip to Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has been an eye opening experience and a pleasant surprise. I have found myself naturally trying to compare this trip to my previous Global Fellows trip to Madagascar in 2006, but the unique realities of life here really don’t lend themselves to an even comparison.

The Ethiopian Catholic Church is in the minority among all the religions here. Smaller even than the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia. Christians here are also in the minority compared to the Muslim population. But, that just serves to highlight the amazing reality of the work of CRS and the Catholic Secretariats, including the one here in Harar. The willingness to work with any community that is open to accepting the support we can offer is a hallmark characteristic of CRS and the Secretariats. And what a statement that is!

Ethiopia well

A new well allows the villagers to draw clean water close to home, rather than making long trips to fill jugs from a murky pool. Photo by Mikaele Sansone/CRS

Consider, when we to go a village where CRS through HCS (Harar Catholic Secretariat) have engaged in intervention projects, we see communities whose lives reflect the transformation from the uncertainty of poverty to the hopefulness of a more stable way of life.

Consider the water project we visited today. Upon arriving, we were greeted with what has been the customary act of welcome of the people. The men and women gathered into their respective groups. The men sang a chant of praise thanking God and thanking us (as representatives of CRS and all the Catholics of the United States) for the ways that this water project has improved their lives. It was a moving song of gratitude and exuberant dance that all the men of the community performed together. Again, as we have seen at several other sites, all the women, in their colorful dresses and coverings, also circled up and sang the customary song of welcome. They were all clearly grateful for what had taken place in their community and they took some significant time out of their day to come down from their farms and express their thanks.

So, what was accomplished? In this one village, whose population is most likely all Muslim, the construction of a well, and more central to the three villages that use it has accomplished much given the simplicity of the project.

These communities used to fetch water from a natural spring that was three quarters of a mile away. The spring flowed into a murky pool into which they would dunk their plastic water containers to fill them. This water was exposed and often stagnant. The possibility of ingesting worms from the water was an ever present reality.

The water project tapped directly into the spring beneath the surface where the water is still clean and the worms can’t infest it. It brought the water through pipes to a central distribution point with four faucets and a clean base upon which to rest the water bottles. This arrangement made a nearly two hour round trip to retrieve water a task of a matter of minutes. Considering that much of the work of hauling water falls to the women while the men work the fields, this one change has significantly improved the lives of the women in these villages. One of them expressed to me that she even feels safer about sending her children to retrieve extra water, if needed, since the distribution point is so much closer to home. And now, with clean water and the elimination of the threat of infection by worms, the health of the whole community instantly improved.

But, even better, the operation of the water distribution point has been turned over to a committee of members selected from the community and empowered to govern its use. They collect a small monthly fee from all the families who use it (on the order of 16 cents a month) to cover routine maintenance and upkeep.

Projects like these are never intended to be CRS or HCS owned projects. They begin when a community asks for help. They continue in partnership with the people of the community and they conclude with the community clearly in control of a new stabilizing asset that has improved the life of all. And their gratitude, reflecting the investment in and acknowledgement of their human dignity, shines over all.

This is good work. This is real development. I am grateful to have been here to see this in person and am extremely proud to have an organization like CRS representing me as a Catholic from the United States to the thousands of people CRS serves throughout the world.

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