At the end of December we received an update from Bishop Lesanu Christos Matheos, Bishop of Bahir Dar-Dessie, in the form of a five page Bishop’s Letter. We felt we should publish it in full rather than try to summarise the situation. The three documents below should be read in order.
Since the last update we have struggled to obtain any information at all about the situation the country, beyond what it is possible to glean from news agencies. However in October we were very glad, though little reassured, to receive a first-hand report from a friend who has been involved through Catholic Relief Services in trying to get food aid into the Tigray region, a task which is clearly both arduous and dangerous. The following is a short summary of what we have learned.
Food distribution is very difficult and much food is spoiled before it can be delivered. Truck drivers will not cross the Tigray border in either direction. Many aid organisations have been thrown out of Ethiopia, including Danish Refugee Organisation, various UN organisations, Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Crossing the Tigray border back into Ethiopia is totally and deliberately humiliating, often involving the loss of some or all of one’s possessions. It is very time-consuming. Foreign aid workers cannot be “med-evaced” out in the case of illness and our friend knows of a foreign aid worker who died of a treatable condition for this reason.
It is almost impossible to bring money into Tigray, and banks are not operational. Overseas money is trapped in Addis.
Our friend confirmed our understanding that there are no internal communications between Tigray and the rest of Ethiopia or the rest of the world. This blackout includes telephone, internet and postal services. The use of satellite phones, the only remaining method, is severely restricted, with aid organisations having to continually reapply for permission to use them, and then only for very short time windows. Equipment is frequently broken or sabotaged. In addition, all communications out of Ethiopia are being monitored.
In Adigrat, the seat of Bishop Tesfaselassie, whose diocese covers a huge area bordering Eritrea, there is no water. We were relieved to learn that the Bishop and the clergy were well and operating actively in these extremely difficult circumstances. They are receiving a trickle of money from the Addis diocese which keeps some elements of their programmes afloat. All schools in Tigray are closed.
A fuller account of the current picture in Ethiopia as we understand it is in the annual Newsletter.
Report to the Jean Grove Trust from the Holy Saviour KG School, Dawhan – May 2020
“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you” (John 14:27).
With these words of Jesus we send our greetings to the Jean Grove Trust from an empty and deserted community that used to be full of life, now abandoned because of a war that has left us all traumatised.
This academic year has been like no other. Instead of reopening in September 2020 as had been expected, the school stayed shut down due to government Covid regulations. The school had already been locked down since March 17th 2020. What was to follow was far more fearsome and traumatic than the pandemic.
Refresher Workshop in Advance of the 2020 Academic Year
In anticipation of the re-opening of the school that had been locked down since March 17th 2020, the school organised a socially-distanced workshop for the staff at the end of September on Montessori best practice for Holistic Childhood Education.
Sr. Letebrahet Abraha DC, a Daughter of Charity from Mekelle, delivered the workshop. Sr. Letebrahet had, in fact, trained our teachers in their initial teacher formation many years ago in Walahita Sodo Training College in Southern Ethiopia. There were 2 objectives to the workshop:
1. To re-evaluate the teaching staff to see how effective they have been in their careers as Montessori educators;
2. To introduce them to the most up-to-date Montessori methodology for the holistic education of children.
All management and staff members participated in the refresher workshop.
Preparation for School Reopening in September 2020
The expectation among staff and people in the zone was that after the celebration of Meskel (celebration of the Exaltation of the Cross) at the end of September, the Covid restrictions would ease and the school would reopen. Staff prepared for this reopening with great zeal – classrooms were cleaned up by the class assistants, while the teachers prepared the lesson plans for the semester.
The staff numbers planned for the year were as follows:
Teachers and Class Assistants 8
St Louis Sisters 3
Registration for the New Academic year 2020/2021
With the great expectation for the resumption of the school after the prolonged lockdown since March, many families brought their children for registration. The children and their families were so anxious to return to school to continue their learning and enjoy the balanced nutritious school feeding programme which they had greatly missed.
The total number of children registered was 109, 36 new children who were start KG 1, and 73 children from the previous year who were to be promoted to KG 2 and KG 3.
Outbreak of War
The schools in Tigray were not, in fact, allowed to open after Meskel. In hindsight, this may have been an indication of what was to come. The war broke out very suddenly in November and because we are so close to the border with Eritrea, and due to the bombings and fear of the Eritrean soldiers, Dawhan quickly became a ghost town as the community fled to the mountains to hide in caves. Almost overnight there were no people to be seen, banks were closed down, all means of communication were cut off, as was the electricity supply. In short the area fell into total black out. The Eritrean Military were deployed to the Irob district and engaged in massive destruction and looting of government establishments, markets, stores and houses.
Sisters flee Dawhan
Fearing for their safety, the sisters fled the town on 16th November 2020 and sought refuge in Adigrat with the Missionaries of Africa (the White Fathers). Adigrat was subsequently invaded by the Eritrean army continuing their wave of destruction right across the region. Hospitals, mosques, churches and barracks are supposed to be safe places for civilians but the reverse turned out to be the case. The people were left totally helpless.
The Eritrean troops continued their wave of destruction right across the region beyond Adigrat. Once again fearing for our safety and needing to regroup from the trauma we left Tigray in February for our native countries (Nigeria and Ghana). We returned to Ethiopia in early April and then travelled back to Dawhan.
Impact of the War on Holy Saviour Kindergarten Dawhan
On returning to Dawhan, we discovered that the school was neither looted nor destroyed – due mainly to the presence of our Parish Priest and one of the cooks who stood firm and appealed to the Eritrean Military explaining that the school is not a Government school, but rather for the church and the community. The soldiers came at one point and despite the pleas of the priest broke into the kitchen and took the biggest cooking pot and two water barrels from the two toilets. Food was also taken.
We still have no indication as to when the school will reopen. In the current unstable condition, it is certainly not possible. We only rely on God’s intervention
Impact of the War on the Town and Region
The impact of the war has been devastating. Many women have been violently raped and the men are still in hiding in the hills as the Eritrean soldiers in the area are still moving from house to house searching for men and boys to kill. So far 86 boys have been confirmed killed in the Irob region including Dawhan and Alitena. We will not know for some time all that has happened here during this war, but certainly the impact is devastating.
Developments since July 2020
Construction of a Fence/Wall to Improve School Safety
In the report to Jean Grove Trust in July 2020 we requested to use the surplus of 52,735.79 birr, from funds previously donated for the construction of a shaded area for assembly, for the erection of an overhead tank to store drinking water and the construction of a fence/wall at a part of the school that looks out onto a deep valley to prevent any form of accident and improve school safety.
The wall fence was successfully constructed and completed in early October 2020. The height is above that of our children and thus has enormously increased the onsite safety.
When the school reopens and the children return they will be over joyous with the new facilities in school that have all been constructed or upgraded during the lockdown – the toilets, assembly shade/multi-purpose space, KG 2 entrance, kitchen (as reported in July 2020) and now the wall fence.
In the July 2020 report we also requested permission from the Jean Grove Trust to use some of the surplus of 52,735.79 birr to help to erect an overhead water tank to store drinking water. As the wall was more urgent than the tank for reasons of child safety, we held back on this feature until the wall was complete. Not long after the wall was completed the war broke out so we have not yet erected the water tank. We hope to do so at some stage this year depending on availability of materials and labour in this ongoing new reality of conflict. The remaining surplus of 5,170.79 birr will be used for the tank project.
Further Support from Jean Grove Trust
The support provided by the JGT, apart from the funds that went into the wall fence, was directed completely into teacher salaries and training. This continues to be the most significant support the school receives. The staff are our foundation – without them, the school could not exist, and we would not be able to provide the holistic education to the little children that they so badly need at this time of great trauma.
1. Staff Salaries
Before the war began staff salaries were paid up to October 2020. However once the war began, the banks closed and we could not access funds to pay the staff. When we returned in April we could only pay them for November to January due to the new bank policy which limits the amount we can withdraw. The banks in Dawhan are still shut due to looting and destruction, so we have to travel to Adigrat to access money. In the mid May we will be able to pay the staff up the remaining months.
2. On-going Professional Development of 2 Staff Members
In September 2020 Desta and Aster began the final year of their OPD course. However due to the outbreak of war they had to abandon the training site so they have not managed to complete the course.
Word of Appreciation
In the midst of this pain and suffering, the Sisters, the Holy Saviour Kindergarten staff and children, and the larger community of Dawhan send our warmest appreciation to you Jean Grove Trust for what you have been to the school, the children, the teachers, the parents, and the entire Dawhan people at this time. We are so grateful for the prayers, good wishes and considerable financial support for teachers’ salaries and other projects that give the school a befitting look during this time of destruction that helps to engender a sense of dignity and pride in the town. May the Lord the generous God continue to bless and provide for you and your families.
Sr. Maureen Long’ep, School Administrator
A number of our supporters have been asking with concern about the situation in Ethiopia at the moment and how it affects the work of the Trust. We ourselves have found it difficult to glean information since the outbreak of armed conflict in Tigrai in November, which led to a shutdown in communications with the whole region. However, we thought we should take the opportunity to share our current state of knowledge with you, especially as this is the time of year when we normally distribute our annual grants.
Since the election of Abiy Ahmed as prime minister in 2018 with a pledge to bring national unity, long simmering ethnic tensions have erupted in many different parts of the country. For those who would like more of an insight we found this very informative report on Al Jazeera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQ2NVXuzjww. All schools in Ethiopia were closed in March 2020 due to COVID, but mostly reopened at the start of this school year in September. However in Tigrai the schools did not reopen, due presumably to the impending troubles.
Two of the Jean Grove Trust schools, the Holy Saviour Kindergarten in Dawhan, and the St Peter and Paul School in Zalambessa, are in the northern part of Tigrai, close to the border with Eritrea. There has been fighting throughout the region with shelling of cities, towns and settlements. Sr Perpetua from Dawhan reports that they had rockets coming over their house every few minutes, with some coming down and exploding close by. The area has clearly been a particular target for the Eritrean Army (who have been assisting the Ethiopian Federal Army). There has been much looting, though focussed mainly on institutional buildings rather than private houses.
After a very traumatic few weeks, the two sisters who were in Dawhan at the time managed to leave and return to their home countries for a much-needed rest. Some women and children have now been able to return to the village, but many of the men have either been killed or are in hiding. The sisters were also able to return at the beginning of April, and we understand that, fortunately, neither the school nor the sisters’ house have been damaged by the fighting or seriously looted. Banks have recently re-opened, so it is now possible to pay the teachers who have not been paid since they were closed in November. Schools throughout the region remain closed.
Since direct communications remain shut down we have been unable to establish direct contact with Bishop Tesfaselassie, who is based in the town of Adigrat which has been one of the centres of fighting, but we understand from contacts that he is safe and able to function to some degree. However, we have no news from Zalambessa, or from the Filippini sisters who run the school. Zalambessa, being even closer to the Eritrean border than Dawhan, must be very vulnerable.
The city of Bahir Dar, where we have long supported the Blessed G Michael School run by the Daughters of Charity, is the capital of the Amhara region of Ethiopia. The school and the banking system are open, but Bishop Lesanu-Christos reports that the Eparchy (Diocese) is suffering from two directions. From the East, Bahir Dar is affected by the flow of refugees from the fighting in Tigrai. In the West there is a different ethnic conflict in progress involving the Gumuz, Oromo and Amhara peoples. Many of the Catholics served by the Eparchy are Gumuz. The Bishop tells us that they have fled to the forest where they are starving and beyond the reach of help.
Our fourth school is the Lord Jesus Catholic School in the village of Zizencho in the Guraghe region. Although this region borders Oromia, and has a substantial Oromo population we understand that it has been relatively unaffected by the troubles in other parts of the country. The Lord Jesus Catholic School is operating normally and the banking system is also functioning.
We have been extremely grateful to all of our supporters who have maintained their donations through the period of the pandemic. Last year we were able to send £10,700 to each of the integrated schools and £5,250 to the Kindergarten at Dawhan, in addition to which we were able to fund works on the playground. Inevitably our income will be down somewhat as some to the activities which would normally contribute to income have not been able to proceed this year. However, we have decided that we should try to maintain our regular donations to the schools this year, as the money will be needed more than ever to help with the recovery. In order to do so, we will be drawing on the Trust’s reserves to the extent of some £8,000. Our policy is to send money when we are confident that the banking system is working and the school administration is able to function reliably. This means that we were able to send money last month to Zizencho, Bahir Dar and Dawhan. We have delayed the payment to Zalembessa until we are able to establish communication with the Bishop and the Filippini sisters.
We will post a further update on the website when we have some material news to report. In the meantime, please pray for our friends in Ethiopia who are enduring terrible times.
Eamon Duffy (Chair)
Trustees of The Jean Grove Trust
This year’s Christmas card is now available from Blackfriars, or directly from us by post or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The very beautiful design is based on a twelfth-century stone carving from Autun Cathedral showing the Magi dreaming. The packs of ten cards cost £5 each.
After last year’s great success, George Breakfast and friends are back at the Devonshire Arms on Thursday 27 October to play another benefit for the Jean Grove Trust. We are hugely grateful to all the bands taking part. Come along from 8 o’clock; admission is free, with all donations on the night going to the Trust. We’ll see you there!
The Dante Concert benefit took place last Saturday, and the Trust is most grateful to Clive James and Patrick Hemmerlé for their poetry and playing, and to Gonville and Caius College for hosting the event. The concert was sold out long before the performance, so for those of you who didn’t manage to get a ticket, here are some pictures from the evening.
The Jean Grove Trust is delighted to announce our forthcoming benefit concert.
On Sunday 24 January, Clive James and Patrick Hemmerlé will join forces to present an evening of readings and music. Patrick’s programme, the Mozart Piano Sonata in A Minor, K310; the Haydn Andante and variations in F Minor (Un piccolo divertimento); and the Beethoven Piano Sonata in C Minor, Opus 111, will be interspersed with readings from Clive’s acclaimed translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Drinks will be available after the concert, which will be held in the intimate space of the Bateman Auditorium at Caius. Tickets cost £25 and are available here
For other information, please contact us at email@example.com
A benefit concert in aid of the Jean Grove Trust will be held at the Devonshire Arms on Thursday, 24 September, at 7.30 p.m. The Devonshire Arms is one of Cambridge’s newest pubs, and is the place to go for local ale from Milton Brewery as well as for fantastic live music. Entry is free, with any donations going to the Trust: we hope to see you there.