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An Ethiopian opening

by
15 December 2010

Andrew Proud takes part in a grand event to launch an education and resource centre in western Ethiopia

LAST month, I travelled to the western tip of Ethiopia to take part in the opening of a large community library and resource centre. This may not sound very important. But if you look more closely at where the centre is, and what it is doing, you can begin to see its significance, and why so many people travelled so far for the ceremonies.

I am Area Bishop for the Horn of Africa, which covers Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. I am based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The centre is located in Gambella, capital of the Gambella regional state, which bor­ders Sudan.

The people who live in this tropical region are plagued by water-borne diseases, flooding, drought, and conflict. More than a third of the population struggle to survive, and more than half of women and 40 per cent of men have no education at all.

In schools, students often share one text book between four, and 62 per cent of girls over the age of 14 never show up. Keeping children in school is a constant problem, be­cause their families need them to work.

The Gambella Anglican Centre, 60 kilometres from the Sudan border, will serve the people of the region regardless of their ethnic back­ground or belief. It was built with a generous grant from the Irish gov­ernment and other donors, with CMS Ireland as the lead agency.

A large community library, seat­ing 250 students, stocks a wide selec­tion of national texts and reference books. Training rooms will provide tutorial classes. A literacy and dev­elop­ment programme, run from the centre, will reach out to the sur­round­ing rural areas. Agricultural and health programes will be delivered from the site, where a guest block and canteen can support residential training. On the day the centre opened, 1000 students registered.

Consequently, the official opening of the Centre was a big event. And I was delighted to travel from Addis to play a part in the launch.

Thirteen of us, including the President-Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Most Revd Mouneer Anis, arrived in Gambella on a hot, over­cast afternoon. On the 17-kilometre drive from the airport to the town, we passed several bush fires.

AFTER an overnight stay in the centre’s new guesthouse, we left in an old bus to drive to nearby Itang, to dedicate a new church building there. The bus took nearly two hours to weave to and fro across the new road that the Chinese are building. Oc­casionally, but very rarely, we were able to enjoy what the road will be once it is finished.

AFTER an overnight stay in the centre’s new guesthouse, we left in an old bus to drive to nearby Itang, to dedicate a new church building there. The bus took nearly two hours to weave to and fro across the new road that the Chinese are building. Oc­casionally, but very rarely, we were able to enjoy what the road will be once it is finished.

As we approached Itang, we were met by the combined choirs of the Annuak and Nuer people linked to St Mary’s. We could see, as we had been told, that the painted, smoothed mud had begun to fall off the ends of the building in the late rains.

Inside the church, the congrega­tion had been unable to mud the floor, in the traditional manner, to make the building usable. The black cotton soil all over the floor had the texture of hardened Christmas cake icing — a sea of black, muddy peaks.

Unable to use the building, the congregation of more than 200 Nuer, Annuak, and visitors, gathered under the beautiful trees at the edge of the compound, where a makeshift altar had been set up. But, before we could sit down, we each had to have our feet washed, in the traditional welcome of the Nuer people for honoured guests.

The service in the “tree cathedral” lasted some two hours: a liturgy of dedication and consecration, read­ings, sermon, eucharist, and much beautiful singing.

THAT evening, a group of us, in­cluding the centre project director, Sam Moody, drove to the regional parliament to meet President Omot Obang Olom, who had given us the land for the centre. In the President’s Cabinet room, members of his Cabinet sat along one side of long, highly polished tables that ran down the middle of the room.

The Irish Ambassador, Síle Ma­guire, and British Embassy staff sat opposite. We took seats between the Irish and British delegations. We stayed for about 20 minutes, ob­serving protocols and extending a public and personal invitation to the President to attend the opening the next day.

An hour after the meeting, the Regional President rang to say he would like Bishop Anis and me to return to his office to discuss pro­tocols for the opening. It turned out to be an interesting and enjoyable meeting, covering much more than just protocols.

Later that evening, we returned to the centre, joining our Roman Cath­olic friend, Bishop Angelo Moreschi, for supper. All the RC priests and seminarians, Don Bosco Brothers, Missionaries of Charity, and Santa Anna Sisters were there, too.

That night, the standpipe behind the guest house was in constant use, as the Mothers’ Union from St Barnabas’s and St Luke’s churches fetched water to wash the meat and prepare the feast for the next day.

ON THE day of the opening, Ms Maguire took her seat with Bishop Moreschi and the other guests. And, as we waited for the Regional Presi­dent, the St Luke’s Sunday-school choir arrived, dressed in blue tab­ards, singing as they entered the compound.

When the President arrived, the ceremony began. I gave a speech of welcome (all protocols observed). Bishop Anis and the Regional President presented the building, cut the ribbon, and unveiled the plaque. This was followed by a lunch at which 200 people managed to eat an entire large bull, very quickly — an astonishing feat.

At 6.15 p.m., the sky darkened to a beautiful blackcurrant-grey over the mountains to the east, and a strong wind picked up before the heavens opened and heavy rain freshened the air.

We drove to a hotel in the town for an official reception, in the middle of a power cut. The President arrived, to­gether with his Cabinet ministers, to take his seat at the high table. After supper, the President presented Ms Maguire, Bishop Anis, and me with bead-decorated ostrich eggs.

The next day, we returned to Addis, tired but exhilarated. This centre represents the fruits of a long-held vision for this hard-pressed region. It was a delight to see it up and running.

The Rt Revd Andrew Proud is Area Bishop for the Horn of Africa in Bishop Anis’s diocese, covering Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

 

 

The Rt Revd Andrew Proud is Area Bishop for the Horn of Africa in Bishop Anis’s diocese, covering Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

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