Update from Bahir Dar

In March this year we received the attached Bishop’s letter from Abune Lesanu-Christos Matheos in Bahir Dar. It was written in November, but it gives a vivid and informed view of life in the City. An email received from the Head of the school, also in March, indicates that little has changed, and tells of many displaced people migrating to the City and of soldiers dying in clashes outside the school fence. However the school itself continues to operate. She expresses her deep gratitude for the Trust’s support.

Communications to Bahir Dar remain severely restricted and it is difficult to get up to date news.

News from Zalambessa

Just before Christmas we received a letter from Sister Letteselassie of the Filippini sisters who ran the St Peter and Paul school in Zalambessa on the border with Eritrea. We knew already that the school had stopped operating due to the war, that it had been damaged, and the school staff and some pupils had been transferred to the St Lucy school in Adigrat, also run by the Filippini sisters. Sister Letteselassie’s latest letter confirms the extent of trhe devastation to the school:

“During the war and post war has its implication. We lost some teachers from St. Lucy School and few former students from Sts. Peter and Paul School and other schools of ours in the war. Very sad but we are thankful for those who returned alive. There is still insecurity, famine and shortage of medicine etc… but after having past those darkened times we are grateful. .

On Sunday December 10, one of our Sisters went to Zalambessa. She saw our residence, our school Sts. Peter and Paul, the people who have been there all the while and some who went back. She said there are the Ethiopian Federal Soldiers and you can move around freely. There is no light; water is taken from Adigrat twice a week by tankers and distributed to the people. Our residence which is in the middle of the town, two guards who live there watch it by turn since our sisters left Zalambessa.

 While our school is located on the outskirts and in fact right on the border we have no guards there. From the beginning of the conflict a lot of looting has taken place; it was dangerous to keep guards there. By now except some precious laboratory materials and some documents our sisters moved to the residence, little by little everything has been looted anyone passes through the school compound. As you will see some photos, some windows here and there, the skeleton of the building only exists and that’s it. It is very tragic a school which was flourishing back to zero.

In the middle of this difficult time next to our Institute you are the first to console us, lighten our burden of the debts we have to pay. It is a big help. I told the staff of Zalambessa that you’re standing on the side of the School of Sts. Peter and Paul / the people of Zalambessa/ always and especially this year with your prayer filled financial help. They told me to thank you on their behalf too.

As an Institute we thank and admire you and your association for your sacrifice to help our people in need. Thank you very much and be assured of our prayers,”

Dawhan teachers tell harrowing stories of survival during the war

During the visit of Srs Maureen and Perpetua to the school in July, they were able to meet the staff, who shared their experiences of the war and how they managed to survive. Each of them expressed gratitude to the Sisters of St Louis and the Jean Grove Trust for saving their lives and those of their families from hunger when a twelve months’ salary was given to them in June 2022. Many of them broke down in tears as they shared their horrible experiences. In all, they were grateful to God for surviving the war because many lost family members in the conflict.

We have removed the names of the staff and the places of refuge in the individual stories below for safety reasons.

“I have an aged mother who was sick, for safety from bombing I moved with my sick mother to a relation’s house in another village and met six other families who came to seek refuge from different places. There we were managing and eating together with the seven families. In a space of three weeks everything had finished and we were left with nothing to eat. My sick mother pleaded to be taken back to her house; she preferred to die in her home. We had to return to our village on my mother’s request. We stayed at home running in and out to hide in the cave during the daytime till the war ended. “

“When the bombing started, the family would run to hide inside the drainage with the slab shielding them during the day and returned home at night for about three days. But when the bombing started at night the family members ran in different directions, in search of a safe place. My husband ran to Alitena, I remained in Dawhan and the children to another place, as the bombing continued at night I ran to Alitena and there was no food there and with the constant bombing I ran to another village and stayed there for three months and came back to Dawhan when things were better. Fuel was available for milling and people were able to get something to eat. “

“My home is about 2 hours walking distance from Dawhan. For some days I moved from one village to another; I thought the situation was improved and moved to Dawhan. Soon trouble started again in Dawhan, I was finding refuge inside drainage for two days, the third day I ran to Alitena, but the same day bombing started there so I ran to another place and discovered there was no food there so I ran back to Dawhan to get food at night because bombing was only at night. Unfortunately that night as I got to Alitena bombing started I couldn’t get to Dawhan I ran into a cave and stayed till morning and continued to Dawhan to get food and walked back two days after in the night. There too was also under attack with bombing, I ran to a desert and stayed three weeks there before coming back to my house in Dawhan. “

“I was in Dawhan when the bombing started, I first of all ran to another place for two weeks and ran back to Dawhan. When I couldn’t cope with the bombing in Dawhan I ran to my home village where the foreign soldiers were. We were not allowed to move around without permission. I stayed there with my children till the war was over. Moreover I could not run with my twin boys with special needs. That was the main reason why I had to stay in Dawhan most of the time during the war.”

“At the beginning of the war I was in Dawhan like others running to the drainage during the day and returning to the house at night. I ran to the village to my aged parents which was under siege by the foreign soldiers. We all eventually ran to the mountains. Hunger would not allow me to stay for long and I decided to go back to the village where the foreign soldiers were. Movements were restricted unless with permission to go to the stream to fetch water, one couldn’t go to the bush to fetch firewood so people had to be removing sticks from the roof to make fire to fry grains to eat, that was the only food they were living on as a means of survival for three months.”

“Shortly before the war a colleague and I were rounding up our program at a College in Timbel, a town over 200km from my village. We woke up in the morning and discovered we were left alone in the rented house. The cost of transportation had gone so high. At the bus station the transport fare to Hawsen (17km from Timbel) had risen from 50 to 200 Birr, as that was the last money we had on us and we had no choice than to go on foot. At this time there was tension everywhere in the whole region. Shortly after we left the town on foot, it received lots of bomb attacks. When we got to Hawsen with nothing on us, we had to walk and only at night was the safest time to move, breaking the journey at any residence people were, begging to rest during the day and continued at night till we reached our village. While in Timbel my house in Dawhan was bombed and I lost everything. I was badly affected psychologically that my family thought I was dead; my mother was mourning me crying every day. Eventually I appeared, they thought they were seeing a ghost. My brother saw the way I was behaving like a psychiatric patient. I was quickly taken for medical treatment till I got better.”

“With my colleague I journeyed from Hawsen for so many days of hunger. On arrival in my village the foreign troops had arrived, the youths started screaming for people to run away, I followed without resting or to find something to eat and later went back. I was running forward and backward between four villages for safety till the time of peace. The greatest surprise package for me was the cash received for my salary and that was the saving grace. I will forever be thankful.”

“I was pregnant and due to have my baby during the war. I came to Dawhan on foot to deliver my baby at the government Health Centre in Dawhan. There I was referred to Adigrat at the critical time. I was very lucky because that was the time Sr. Perpetua Apo took one year salary cash to the staff because nothing was functioning including banks so I had the twelve month salary with me. I spent all the money on delivering the baby. There was only one ambulance and had no fuel I had to fuel the vehicle at the rate of 600 Birr/ litre. On our way to Adigrat the fighting was heavy and the driver had to turn back to Dawhan. Two days to my delivery I had to fuel the vehicle again to take me back to Adigrat. I underwent Caesarean Section (CS). I paid for every single item used on me at the hospital. My entire family reflected about the whole thing and asked what might have happened if that money was not there? Definitely their daughter would have died. They are so appreciative of the money and it was my life line.
The family will forever be grateful and praying for the Sisters and Jean Grove Trust for saving me.”

“The miracle of cash received during the terrible hunger/ suffering like the Israelites heavenly grain rained down from the sky, food that God gave the Israelites during the Exodus for survival (Exodus 16:15). On receiving the money I was so grateful that it came at that moment, I went straight to the market to get foodstuff and got what I wanted, bombing from nowhere started, I couldn’t wait to collect my change and the foodstuffs I had already purchased and ran back to the village. On getting to the village the foreign soldiers were there in front of my house. We had a donkey, collected small food and coffee and left at mid-night to a village, which is about one and half hours walk. Then went to another village to get foodstuff to replace the one I left in the market for fear of bombing. I met shooting in there and couldn’t go back so went to hide somewhere the whole day, at mid-night then returned to my refuge but there was no milling machine in the village. I faced another journey to find one, there also I met shooting and bombing, but I was able to grind the grains and went to stay with relations till the war was over.”

“Like the other staff, I had to be running from village to village and back to Alitena to stay with my family. When I finally came back home the foreign soldiers asked for my whereabouts and I told them I was afraid of bombing that’s why I ran away. They told me not to run again and they gave me the permission to be going to my garden. Since then I have been in Alitena with my family to the end of the war.”

September 2023


We are very sad to announce the death of Dick Grove, beloved husband of Jean, on 9th July 2023 at the age of 99. Dick has been a trustee of The Jean Grove Trust since its foundation, and his deep knowledge and experience of the region have been central to the way it has developed over the last 20 years. He will be much missed.

The Grove family connection with the Trust remains strong through the continuing trustees. We give grateful thanks to all those who have donated generously to the Trust in Dick’s memory.

Latest Update from Dawhan

More good news! We were delighted to receive a message last month saying that the school has reopened, three months earlier than we had expected, under the direction of the school head teacher, a local lady. Two of sisters, Maureen and Perpetua are back in Addis Abeba.

We understand that the school re-opened with the overall support and supervision of the Parish Priest, and that all the teachers and classroom assistants have returned. 105 children have registered which is almost two thirds of the former school complement. They are deeply grateful for the support the Trust has given over the last two years.

We must remain cautious, since the roads remain blocked, and Eritrean soldiers are still present around Dawhan. People are having a hard time moving about along the road to Adigrat to get things and to get access to money as the banks are not working yet in Dawhan.

News from Tigray at last!

It is with huge relief that we are able to report that we have at last heard from our contacts in Tigray, Bishop Tesfeselassie and Sr Letteselassie in Adigrat. The Bishop, those members of his staff who we know, and the community of the Filippini Sisters are safe. The story is best told in the words of our correspondents (only slightly edited) below, beginning with the message from the Bishop:

“I praise God to have brought me to this hour against all sorts of odds and risks and indeed periods of ‘hell on earth’…. God must have some definite purpose for our lives as so so many lives have perished with all kinds of atrocious ways by combined federal armies and from abroad with drone technologies included, from rampage of incredible cruelties of gender violence massacres, destruction of homes and infrastructures, industries, lootings, and what not!!! All this under complete siege and total blockage of all basic services to this region of 6/7 million population.

The recent peace agreement has silenced guns and some very very little services starting, but still commodity flow from other regions in and out are not yet, so are the banks only starting and with so little service…… so a lot has to be done before life and functions come back to order. Eritrean armies have to leave the places so that the displaced millions internally and to Sudan can return home – if they can find homes. Schools (must be) repaired, furnished, unpaid teachers settled, a lot of trauma healing work required….. ALL THIS but with God’s help and our friends close and far, like yourselves, peace has to come some way, challenges and life to continue, with restorative works.

The current situation priority is almost all needs and engagement emergency reaching out for food, medicine, shelter, …. Our Catholic church has remained accompanying the suffering population in all the locations of our missions in the Eparchy which covers all Tigray. Extraordinary witness of suffering Christ with his souls, trying to give hope and helping with whatever little we could get.

We thank you and all in the Jean Grove Trust. My prayerful best wishes for God’s blessings in abundance”

Sr Letteselassie writes:

“Thanks to the prayers of good people like you we have seen miracles. Things could have been worse otherwise. As a community we are ok. Although especially at the beginning, two years and two months ago, our 2 sisters were in Zalambessa and really they were in the middle of the shooting but thank God they remained safe.

Within these past two years many things happened – we really lived day by day. The people of Zalambessa have been moving from place to place and few remained there all the while. Our school as a whole was accommodated in Adigrat with the staff and pupils mixed together with the school we have for the school year 2021-2022 now we didn’t even start.

We didn’t go but people are going back and forth to Zalambessa now. Our School is looted and damaged. One block, the pedagogical center and science lab, was badly destroyed at the very beginning, but now we hear that the roof and everything of the whole school is not there. Only the walls exist.

Most of the people are in Adigrat; we do meet them but most of them are not together as a family. We hope things continue for better and things come back to normal.”

Finally the link below contains a fascinating update from Sr Perpetua (Dawhan) on how her life has been in Ethiopia for the last while:

Dawhan update

We are aware that the delivery of this year’s newsletter has been affected by the disruption in the postal service, and that some of our supporters have not yet received their copy. It will arrive in the end, but, in the meantime, a copy including the latest news we had at the time of publication, is published in a separate post.

We have subsequently received the sad news that, despite the hopeful outlook in June, things have since gone very badly in Dawhan. It appears that in late September, the town underwent days of shelling by Eritrean forces, resulting in the entire population fleeing, including the Father and related staff who had somehow always managed to hang in there, which contributed to keeping the school and convent safe from earlier bouts of looting. The Father left and many weeks later he found out that the school, convent and his house have been severely looted. He has not been back there, so the exact details are not to hand, but he believes that everything that could be carried has been carried, and that the rest was smashed up. We don’t have any further details. Hopefully the iron sheets on the roofs are there!

The sisters of St Louis are heartbroken as the narrative was leaning towards opening in the new year, even if the sisters still stayed at some of a distance in Addis. They send their regards to all the members of the Jean Grove community.

We can but hope and pray for peace in 2023. We will update this site as and when we have any more news.

December 2022

Newsletter 2022


November 28th 2022

Thank you for your contribution to the four schools that the Jean Grove Trust supports in Ethiopia. Even more than elsewhere, recent years in Ethiopia have been turbulent. Tigray, the northern province where two of our schools are located, has been in the grip of a complex war that seemed likely to last many years. But just days ago a ceasefire was announced. We have therefore a very mixed bag of news to report: it is with satisfaction at the continued thriving of the more southern schools, and with sadness but tentative hope for the fate of our friends in the north, that I write to you today.

Let’s start with the unequivocally good news. Back in March, we sent our usual annual payments to the school in Zizencho, south of Addis Ababa, and to the school at Bahir Dar, on the shores of Lake Tana. Both schools acknowledged safe receipt of the money and their gratitude for our continued support. The school at Bahir Dar continues to function well and happily, although the city and the region surrounding it is affected by displaced persons fleeing from the north-east and also from the less-reported ethnic conflict in Oromia in the west. Inflation is affecting Ethiopia severely but the continued depreciation of the Ethiopian birr means that our contribution is holding its value in real terms, and continues to fund books, clothing, food and tuition for approximately 100 of the poorest children at the school.

The school at Zizencho is unaffected by the trouble in the north and west, and goes from strength to strength. The sisters now run a second school at the nearby village of Arekit , which has grown to a similar size to the founding school, with well over 500 pupils from kindergarten to Grade 8. The Trust’s contribution currently covers approximately 48% of the total operating budget of the Zizencho school, though in fact some fraction of that money does get diverted to Arekit when the need arises. (Arekit is also supported by the Blackfriars congregation in Oxford.) The sisters report excellent exam results and that they are under strong pressure from the community to found a high school, so that the graduating pupils can continue with their education. We were interested to learn that they would be very willing to do so but do not have the financial resources they would need for this very worthy project.

Now for the more complex news: our Tigrayan schools have not been able to operate since the first covid lockdown in 2020, which was followed a few months later by the outbreak of war. A communications blackout has been in place since then. All schools in Tigray have been closed, and towns and cities are depopulated as local people fled to more rural areas to escape the fighting. Earlier this year there was an informal ceasefire, but this broke down. The war was little known in the West due to the communications black-out, but it was reported that the three-way conflict was the largest in the world, with approximately a million troops on the ground. In early November a new, more solid and it is devoutly to be hoped more lasting ceasefire was declared.

In October BBC news reports mentioned fighting in the border town of Zalambessa. Zalambessa was utterly destroyed in the Ethiopian-Eritrean war of 1999-2000, and the St. Peter and Paul school there, run by the St Lucy Fillipini sisters, was the first school that we began to support when the Trust was founded. When Trustees visited in 2010 and again in 2015 the town was well on the way to being rebuilt, and the school was thriving — a symbol of hope and reconciliation. We have no further news about the school, or the town, at present. It is heartbreaking to think of this plunge back into chaos. At present we are holding the usual payment for the school in Zalambessa in the Trust’s bank account here, until we hear from the sisters again that the school is able to operate. We pray that will be soon.

After a long period of silence we have recently received a report from the Sisters of St Louis who run the kindergarten and primary school at Dawhan. Two of the sisters who run that school returned to their home country of Nigeria temporarily but remain committed to returning and reopening as soon as that is possible. Sister Perpetua has remained in Addis Ababa and managed to visit Dawhan in June. It was good to hear that the physical buildings of the school remain largely unscathed, although the roof has been damaged a little by shelling, and that all of the teachers are alive. Sister Perpetua carried with her a suitcase of money – the only method of making payments, since all banks were shut and was impossible to bring funds into Tigray through any official channels. Using our contribution, she was able to pay all the teachers at the school their annual salary – a lifeline when the entire region is on the brink of starvation, as well as a pragmatic contribution to keeping the school in a position to start up again at the first possible moment. We hope that the return of ordinary times when the school can open its doors again is now not far away.

All the schools, and the church that supports them, are Ethiopian institutions, run by local clergy and lay people, as well as, at Dawhan and Zizencho, sisters originally from other parts of the world, such as Ghana, Nigeria and Kerala, but who have made their lives in these communities. They will continue to support their communities whatever the circumstances, and the infrastructure of the church that supports them is very solid. Ethiopia has suffered cycles of violence and famine in the past, and has shown a great ability to pull itself out of the fire. We are confident that it will do so again, and we need to be ready with financial support for those endeavours.

The annual Advent Fair at Blackfriars in aid of the Trust will be happening this year, on Sunday December 4th after 11 am Mass. Please join us. We have produced a Christmas Card as usual. The image this year is an Angel adapted from the stone wall carvings in the twelfth century cathedral at Autun. The cards are on sale in the cloister at Blackfriars, and we are happy to post them to you also. You can see the cards on our website, and if you wish to buy some, email us at enquiries@jeangrovetrust.org. They cost £8.00 for a packet of ten cards, of which every penny of profit, which is about £5, goes directly to the schools.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Eamon Duffy, Chairman of the Trustees

Update from Bahir Dar

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.

Latest update from Ethiopia

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.