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