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CNEWA sends out appeal to help drought-affected children in Ethiopia

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) Canada has renewed its emergency appeal for funds to help children remain in school in drought-stricken Ethiopia.

“Many families have been desperate for the last several months,” said CNEWA Canada national director Carl Hétu.

Though some rain did come last spring, it did not affect all regions and in some areas, it poured too much, too fast, washing away good soil, he said.

CNEWA supports programs in the Tigray region in northeastern Ethiopia hardest hit by a drought that has had a devastating effect on 10 million people, Hétu said. Ethiopia has a population of 94 million.

Though a long partnership with the Adigrat eparchy or diocese covering the Tigray region, CNEWA already had a system in place since the last time it dealt with a severe drought in 2011, he said. The emergency system uses a Catholic school to provide food and water to children, not only saving lives but helping them continue their education.

“When you have a severe drought, people tend to leave homes and farms and leave school,” Hétu said. Children could miss a year or six months of school, or families might send their boys. It’s far more likely girls will miss school under these circumstances than boys, he said.

Thanks to a generous response from donors to its first appeal last spring, CNEWA was able to send $450,000 to the region, with half of those funds coming from Canada. The program was able to help 3,300 children in 40-45 schools, providing them with clean water and high protein energy biscuits.

“A package of two or three sustains you for an entire day,” Hétu said. “I had some when I was there. They are very tasty and filling.”

“We were able to limit the dropouts quite considerably with this program,” he said.

Over the summer, CNEWA also sponsored parish-level programs to reach out to children, pregnant and nursing mothers and the elderly, he said. The program aimed at helping 4,000 people.

“The Horn of Africa has always been very sensitive to weather changes,” Hétu said. “El Nino of the past year has affected this part of Africa in a really bad way.”

The drought is one of the worst the region has seen in the last 30 years in a region that is already dry, he said.

Hétu visited Tigray two years ago. “It’s so dry the river banks were already empty,” he said. “There are mountains of sand everywhere.”

People farm and raise livestock when there is enough water, for the soil is good, but in the badly affected regions the crops are dead and livestock are dying because of lack of water. The farmers rely on oxen-drawn plows to till the soil.

“The roads are dust roads,” Hétu said. “Kids walk in mountain terrain to go to school, often two hours one way. The schools are very basic. There’s no iPads, no computers, no electronic boards. It’s chalk and blackboard, with a very old small table for kids.”

“We’ve done a lot so far, but the drought has done its damage” Hétu said. “Even if there’s lots of rain this fall, there are still people who need food and water in the schools.”

“The appeal is to be as generous as possible so kids can go to school, particularly the girls,” he said.

“A great thank you for people who have given to this appeal already,” he said. “It has made a great difference and saved a lot of lives in the last six months.”

More information on the appeal can be found at

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