This week in our blog Beatrice Gardner of the Ababa Project reflects on the fruits of a journey some feared would be risky for Dumfries parishioners.
Sometimes seeking social justice needs shock tactics, and you might say that’s what we used to bring home to our parish of St Theresa’s in Dumfries the on-going difficulties experienced by a community in Ethiopia that we have been supporting for more than three decades. Visiting that community and being able to share our experiences in our own and other parishes means we are now able to share the burden of that support through the wonderful generosity of parishes and friends.
St Teresa’s has had an association with the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady in Ethiopia since 1985 when we offered help to those dying in the drought that hit the country so badly then. At that time the Order ran a nursing home in Langholm, so the connection to the Ethiopian sisters was easy. An Irish Sister, Sr Colette, paid us a visit and the friendship was sealed. We have been supporting them ever since.
In turn each parish priest encouraged us in the work, but it wasn’t until Fr Jim Hayes came to us that we made our first visit. A group of 12 parishioners, including three secondary school pupils, made the eye-opener of a journey in 2012.
There were those who weren’t too sure about us making the visit. Some were wary of our safety, particularly close family and friends. But to meet and get to know so many of the Ethiopian people we had been supporting for such a long time completely changed the mind set of our whole parish when we returned with stories of our experiences.
Who could fail to be impressed when we told them of the care and consideration we were each shown? More importantly, however, was being able to explain, through our enthusiastic talks and photographs, what was really needed in the community we’ve been supporting.
We had always sent funds without really knowing what was actually required by the sisters. They were so polite and meek, that whatever we wanted them to do with our donations they did. Going there and seeing the situation first hand meant we discovered that of course, they knew best where the funds were needed. Now we send funds and let them decide how best to use the cash. They are such hard workers and great organisers, very frugal and can stretch a pound like elastic. They are also great fun and never without a smile for long.
When we got back, an education project - TEACh Programme (Teresa Educating A Child) - was born Success has bred success and in this last school year we have sent 113 children to school in Nazret, Buccama and Addis Ababa. Leaning that Addis Ababa means New Flower in Amharic, and St Teresa being the Little Flower, we renamed our mission The Ababa Project.
Travelling to Ethiopia may have shocked folk, but now we have groups of supporters who sponsor a child for £20 per month, which pays fees, and provides the uniform, shoes, a daily meal, stationery and hygiene items. The journey was worth it.