By Sharon Lasselle
Can you imagine U.S. children under a tree, shifting as one to follow the shade, for five hours, without a break, to listen to a teacher? And then playing “school” at night? Or waiting in line for up to two hours for the chance to enter a library so they can read a book?
As I prepare to join seven other Catholic youth leaders in Baltimore this May intensive study has become a daily joy. The upcoming Catholic Relief Services’ Called to Witness Ethiopia immersion trip will focus on collaboration between Ethiopian nationals served by the organization and the U.S. delegates. The hope is to forge solidarity between U.S. Catholic youth and their Ethiopian peers.
The scenes described above did happen. Author John Bul Dau, a South Sudanese “Lost Boy” from 1987-2001, richly and with hope recounts his 14-year journey as a refugee in the book and movie, “God Grew Tired of Us.” In another book, “A Long Walk to Water,” Linda Sue Park’s fictional work simultaneously brings readers into the lives of two Sudanese characters — a “Lost Boy” of 1987 and a “water girl” of today.
As Ethiopia now suffers drought-induced famine, and I journey through a series of vaccinations unavailable to most in that nation, this quote from Park’s engaging book highlights staggering realities:
“Her sickness came from the water,” the nurse explained. “If the water is dirty you should boil it for a count of two hundred before she drinks … Nya could see the worry in her mother’s eyes. The water from the holes in the (dry) lakebed could be collected only in tiny amounts. If her mother tried to boil such a small amount, the pot would be dry long before they could count to two hundred.”
Questions from friends, parishioners and family also fuel my research.
Question: “Is CRS really Catholic?”
Answer: For information about the group’s Catholic identity go online to crs.org.
Question: “Overseas efforts can do more harm than good; is CRS truly helping?”
Answer: Check out crs.org/Lazarus and crsricebowl.org/speakers/Ghana. CRS also uses the guiding principle of subsidiarity. This means that nationals, not foreigners, run in-country programs. For more on mission trips with integrity, the article “Short-term mission trips: Are they worth the cost?” by Jo Ann Van Engen, available online, is intimate and enlightening.
Question: “Are there Ethiopian refugees in Alaska?”
Answer: Search “ADN, March 13, 2017, Ethiopian immigrant.”
BBC shines in a 47-minute documentary for the whole family, “Ethiopia: Land of Extremes,” available on Youtube. Men and women in Ethiopia commonly dress from the waist down, so prepare the young ones.
These resources give glimpses of several African nations, and I have learned that to Africans, citizens from various parts of their continent are as different from one another as we are from those of other nations in the Americas.
I close with two quotes, which embody a critical CRS attitude. First, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle states, “Let us encounter (the poor) as a fellow poor person … not from a perspective of superiority where, “They are in the dark; I am in the light.” (crsricebowl.org/community-reflections/Christ-marginalized). Scroll down to video “CST101: Option for the Poor and Vulnerable.”
Second, “…the historical patterns which divide the global church into the ‘needy’ and the ‘gifted’ must be understood as one of the most damning heresies confronting Christianity today.” — Pakisa K. Tshimika and Tim Lind, “Sharing Gifts in the Global Family of Faith: One Church’s Experiment.”