Celebrating 50 Years of Service in Ethiopia

CRS Board Member Dr. Carolyn Woo, dean of University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, is currently touring CRS projects in Ethiopia and Kenya. Other delegation members include her son Justin Bartkus, CRS Board Chairman Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee, CRS Board Member Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, CRS Foundation Board Member Art Wigchers, and CRS’ Executive Vice President of Overseas Operations Sean Callahan. Here, Dean Woo shares details of her experiences in the field.

In Ethiopia’s capital, I visited the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by Mother Teresa. The sisters all wore the white saris with blue trim and smiles that just didn’t quit. The facility in Addis Ababa serves about 1,200 adults and children in residence. They are all very sick with deformities and illnesses that make them outcasts of society. Quite a number are near death.

Another nearby facility houses 450 HIV-positive orphans. When we arrived, I saw a small sculpture of Mother Teresa and then scores of boys and girls dressed in their festive best (white dresses and colorful saris). They sang and danced for mass that was joy unlimited. The sisters and volunteers came from all over the world: Philippines, Italy, Denmark, India, a Jewish doctor from Brooklyn, England, Ireland, Spain, etc.

It was heartbreaking to see the adults, but the children just made me laugh. They performed tricks for us that they learned in lessons given by children from a circus who had sought assistance from the sisters.

The little ones love to be held and they are beautiful children. We went into the newborn wing (about 1-3 months). These are babies who have been abandoned: dropped in garbage bins, etc. They are like dolls. There are 350 adoptions per year.

The sisters are simply wonderful. Sister Benedicta, a German sister who is also an MD and a joyful soul, runs the place. Later in the afternoon, at a big ceremony to honor the 50th anniversary of CRS in Ethiopia, she spoke in the way that I imagined Mother Teresa would have spoken. She talked about how each person is God in disguise—that we will all end up in the same place, and God will ask us whether we turned Him down when we ignored our brothers and sisters in suffering. She quoted Mother Teresa, saying “We can’t do what you do, you can’t do what we do; but together we can bring about something beautiful.”

It was poignant because by this time next year, due to a projected reduction in USAID allocations, high food prices and low dollar value, Missionaries of Charity food rations could be cut in half. The gathering included the U.S. Ambassador, the director of USAID in Ethiopia, and other dignitaries. We were all choked up. It was a moment when we all recognize what is at stake: the wellbeing of those we just visited and our own humanity. It was a wonderful moment—there was no question that the Holy Spirit was with Sr. Benedicta.

At the ceremony, a painting was unveiled depicting CRS’ work in Ethiopia. It included a sister of the Missionaries of Charity, a handshake in acknowledgment of work made possible only because of our local partners, and a scale and a dove, representing justice and peace.

Now for those who are really into sustainability practice: ECO-SANITATION. Disposal of waste is a major problem and the source of much illness and death in developing countries. The existing solution, which collects all waste into a central location, is not sustainable and has horrible collateral effects. (Actually, the centralization of waste follows the approach we use in the west). How does one talk about this without grossing everyone out?!

Needless to say, a new solution is needed. CRS pioneered a simple, sustainable solution. It is a new paradigm: a decentralized approach. Each household digs a hole about 3 feet in diameter and 6 feet deep. On top of hole, a family places a concrete slab (3 feet by 3 feet). The concrete slab can be made for about $5 and takes one hour. Privacy is provided by a fence of branches, rocks or whatever materials are available. At the end of each use, ash from cooking is sprinkled into the hole. The ash is highly absorptive, creates good compost, and dispels the smell. At the end of six months, the family moves the fence and concrete slab to another location and plants a fruit tree on top of the hole. This innovation by CRS was featured in a BBC documentary. More than 24,000 holes have been dug in the last two years.

As it always happens on these trips, whenever I see the bags of grains marked “USA,” I am deeply moved. I am so glad that we send these grains. They are the only bridge between starvation and a chance at another day for so many people.

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One Response to “Celebrating 50 Years of Service in Ethiopia”

  1. Etiopia Says:

    this is very intresting topic! Ethiopia is beautiful country!

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