Spiritan Features

The Willow Wheeler Mission Trip of February 2018 to Ethiopia

Áine O’Donoghue, teacher in Willow Park Junior School

40 members of the Willow Wheelers, including 12 students, travelled to Ethiopia last February. After visiting projects in Arba Minch, we made the long journey to Borana by bus. In Doshke, where the Spiritans support community-based agriculture, education, health and water projects, Mammo Beriso, Director of the SCORE outreach programme, stressed the importance of promoting self-sufficiency and sustainability. We saw much evidence of the community’s active participation in development.

In Chencha Prison, which has over 600 prisoners including 43 women, we saw how the main objective was rehabilitation through education including carpentry, mechanics and weaving workshops. Over the years, Church-led support for prison-ministry has included Chencha, and Arba Minch where confrère Fr. Kilempe Garbicha builds on the past work of Fr. Paddy Moran. Prisoners are encouraged to learn skills so as to make a better life for themselves. We saw small projects such as cotton-weaving in the section which, though small and squalid, housed about 100 women and children who are locked up at 5.30p.m. There was a noticeable absence of toys or playthings; most distressing was the state of the children as it is very difficult to control the spread of infection or lice in the cramped and sweltering conditions though prison staff do their best; we were happy to offer to pay for a de-lousing programme, and for kindergarten and other facilities. It was also decided to allocate funds to a street feeding programme, a water project, a clinic, and the purchase of school stationery for three schools.

Project-funding is not the only important part of the annual mission trip; awareness-raising through coming face-to-face with the realities of poverty brings about a deep understanding of the challenges faced by those living in developing-world conditions. Our students noticed that their Ethiopian counterparts had only one set of clothes but had similar interests and seemed happy despite their impoverished surroundings; both groups of students mingled easily, playing soccer and rugby. These experiences are shared with Blackrock campus’ three schools; a film last year by Seán Hannon and Conal Regan (5th Year students), helped enormously to increase interest in development education.

Along with the breath-taking scenery on this truly great trip, one of the unexpected treats was the Ethiopian coffee ceremonies that were held to welcome us.  Women elders stirred and poured a mixture of coffee and water from one container to another over a small fire. After a while, the chief elder said a blessing, and invited us to wipe our hands with the coffee mixture.  Cups of coffee were handed around; it tasted good though it took a bit of practice for us to eat the coffee beans as well!  

Among the many stand-out experiences of this trip was the visit to Dhadhiim where I saw the challenges that Fr. Kenneth Iwunna and Fr. Michael Kasia faced as they sought to do all in their power to bring hope. Women walk miles to collect firewood and water; food is scarce and people are vulnerable to disease. Each morning we attended Mass in the mission’s small chapel while Mass on Ash Wednesday was celebrated in its main church. I was struck by Fr. Iwunna’s line: Those who reach out to the poor, though they haven’t met, are truly blessed.

See full article and photos on https://willowwheelers.club/2018/05/02/ethiopia-trip-2018/