Ludovica spent one month in Shire’ – a village in northern Ethiopia, near the border with Eritrea- to do volunteer work with street children in August 2014.
She was the guest of sister Maria Luisa, one of the founders of the Charity Saint Jeanne Antide.
Ludovica recently interviewed the nun to shed light on what the mission does in Ethiopia and what people willing to help could do.
How was the mission born? What does it do?
The regional government requested to the Bishop of the Catholic Church of Tigray, Monsignor Tesfasselassie Medhin, the possibility to have religious people operating in several fields such as sanitation, education and the empowerment of women in Ethiopia.
The congregation of the sisters of The Charity Saint Jeanne Antide arrived in Ethiopia on 14 November 2003. The sisters spent three months at the community of the Salesian nuns of Adwa in order to settle in and learn the Tigrinya language.
Afterwards, the town hall of Shire’ offered the nuns a 30.000 sqm field in Endaselassie to build a maternity school, a clinic, and a centre aimed at empowering women.
Construction works started in October 2004 and the facilities are now operating properly.
- The maternity school hosts 280 children yearly. Of these, around 30% are hosted for free, as they belong to some of the poorest families of the area. Not only children are provided with an education according to the government programme, but also an education more open to other cultures. To serve this purpose, children engage with volunteers from countries across the globe.
- The S. Agostina Clinic receives every day between 150 and 170 people, the majority of whom are very poor and are in need of medical assistance, exams, moral support and sometimes also financial support. We also run a programme that provides families who are most in need, around 250 – 300, with essential foods for malnourished children.
The clinic was originally considered by the Ethiopian government as a ‘low level’ clinic no longer needed in the country. To continue to operate, we had to upgrade the clinic to a “Health Centre”. In order to do so, we added a maternity ward as well as new facilities, machines and personnel. Works started in December 2013 and the clinic was officially recognised as a health centre on 24 July 2014, on condition that we committed to adding the new ward and hiring all the necessary personnel within a year.
- We have been running for almost two years a programme aimed at empowering women. The programme, dedicated to sainted Nemesia, has been recently recognised by authorities and helps youths who want to get a diploma in IT or needlework and cookery certificates.
- We also assist people who are elderly, ill or alone, mothers and children with AIDS or HIV, disabled and blind people and so on…Every each of them receives economic support. Some of them receive money to pay their rent and buy food for their daily subsistence. Many other are helped start their own business, hoping that they can become independent.
We also assist school age children with their studies and help them pay the material they need for their education.
What are the difficulties you encounter?
We face some difficulties that are very common among missions.
We have been in Shire for 11 years and the majority of people who run the mission are still foreigners: our mentality is different from the one of the local population and we are still unable to effectively communicate with people in order to fully understand their culture, which is rich of Christian traditions and has a long history of stubbornness and ability to fight invasions and attempts of colonisation.
The Ethiopian culture is enveloped by a veil of mystery and magic. It is appealing yet hard to pierce through and this makes decisions and projects difficult to start and continue.
Economically speaking, we also face difficulties. By looking around us we can see what needs to be done, yet we are aware of our limits and the impossibility to reach certain goals. This often leads to painful decisions we must make only because we do not have enough money.
The main source of financial support comes from Italy, a country that is now facing a big economic crisis and has thus reduced its support.
However, we are confident that the providence does not abandon people and therefore we are eternally grateful to the Lord for the extraordinary mission he called us to undertake.
What have you understood about Ethiopians after all these years?
Eleven years are not enough to fully understand a population, but it is enough time to have a general understanding.
The Ethiopian population is very proud of its history and traditions and has been recognising the necessity to fight the country’s devastating poverty. Thus it has committed through governmental and non-governmental programmes to changing the society. However, there is a risk that the poorest people will not be included in these programmes and as a result the gap between poor and rich will widen further.
Ethiopians’ commitment is however visible and remarkable: communication has considerably improved as well as industry.
What can people do to help the mission?
All ideas and initiatives are very much appreciated. In particular we welcome to spend some time with us:
- Anyone specialised in medical, IT and tourism fields who could spend a brief period here in order to share their knowledge
- Anyone who loves spending time with children and/or is able to teach English
- Anyone who wants to know and expose the problems of northern Ethiopia, such as the traffic of youths who leave the county and the relations with the neighbouring Eritrea
- Anyone who would like to support one of our projects, even by sending a small donation
If you wish to support the charity, please contact [email protected]