Kate to the rescue in Ethiopia

April 30th, 2008 | by addis portal |

By Michael Breslin

A retired head of the Collegiate Grammar School, Enniskillen has discovered a new vocation, helping in the rescue, literally and rehabilitation of abandoned children in Mekele in Ethiopia. The Operation Rescue Centre there today caters for 300 children, provides live-in accommodation for 17 and, where need is greatest, the staff provide parents with essential items such as cooking oil, which is very expensive to buy.

Kate has been doing her month’s stint in the Centre since 2005 and, this week, she came into the ‘Herald’ office to speak about its work. It was a re-run of what she had earlier told the Churches Forum, a group which evolved from Enniskillen Together in which she was heavily involved.

At the career end, Kate took early retirement in August 2004 and she ad mitted to feeling ‘quite lost the first year’.

“I found the adjustment difficult. Comber-born, she had worked as a teacher from 1970, and it was nothing to do with where I was living (Drumgay, Enniskillen). I would not have remotely thought of leaving Enniskillen. I love Fermanagh’.

Then, came a breakthrough, a phone-call from Addis Ababa, from Alison Hilliard in February, 2005, with an invitation to ‘come up and see me’, which Kate did.

“She was our guest speaker at my last school’s Prize Day. I told her I would love to, and she wondered if I would be interested in doing some kind of voluntary work. Through her BBC contacts, I was put in touch with Operation Rescue”.

Kate explained that the schoolgoing population in Ethiopia is so huge that a child attends school for half a day. Due to the ravages of HIV and Aids, there is a huge percentage of orphans in that number. The Operation Rescue Centre provides the other half day’s education and one proper meal, two elements which are missing in their home environment.

“They’re dealing with 300 at the moment and they’re hoping eventually to get that up to 500. The staff in the Centre work with the local government department and they’re very much respected in that role”.

The 17 who live in are those whose families are not able to look after them, or who have no family. Perusing through colour photographs she had brought back with her, Kate pointed to one of two happy faces from a ‘no family’ background.

Indeed, happy faces, gleaming white teeth and neat attire belie the children’s cattle house living conditions.

But, imbued by a Christian zeal, Kate adapted instantly to her new vocation, but an old trade, teaching.

“I had a lovely, lovely time. Their ages ran from 2-17. Among them was Mahari, the very first to be rescued by the founders of Operation Rescue, a Brazilian man and his wife who were missionaries in Mekele.

“His wife heard a knock at her window, it was Mahari. The brought him in and gave him food and clothes, he then came back with his two brothers, then more and more came, and the way they looked at it was that God had answered their prayers and would provide for their needs”.

And, so it turned out: having rented premises initially and, when they ran out of space, the present purpose-built Centre went up.

“It’s just on the basis of faith. They have such faith in God and, because they didn’t have the resources themselves, they entrusted matters to God’s hands. They just believe that this is what god wants them to do and that He will provide”.

Kate, who will be going out to Ethiopia later this year, explained that the funding came from a variety of sources, from gifts, people sponsoring a child, etc. And, it is not alone the children who are supported, the extended family are also helped and, just recently, craft classes have been organised for young women involved in prostitution.

“The last time I was there, there were 40 women being trained in cotton spinning and, when they finish, they get spinning wheels to take home with them. They get them free of charge which means they’re able to earn a living straightaway”.

Reverting to the Churches Forum, which in a way was her driving force, Kate defined its role as creating opportunities for those from different faith traditions to come together.

“It ‘s open to all faiths and none”, she said. “We have different things, a Week of Prayer in January for the main Christian churches, visits to different places of historical interest or simply having a meal together.

“It’s a great opportunity to get together to talk together and, all the while, we’re hoping it may encourage new people to come along”.

Those experiences certainly rubbed off on Kate in Ethiopia were 60 per cent of the population is Christian, 33 per cent Muslim and the rest made up of other religious denominations. She was able to mix easily with the various creeds, among them the White Fathers whose mainly deal with orphans.

Then, of course, there’s her teaching role: “Yes, I enjoy it immensely. The class sizes are staggering, you would have between 60-70 in one class, but there is a great thirst for knowledge. They see education as the way forward.

“I was very much made to feel welcome, part of the family in fact. The people there are really kind anyway. The work has given m a tremendous focus. Indeed, if somebody had told me back in 2004 that I would be doing what I am doing now in Ethiopia, I just wouldn’t have believed them. So, I thank God so much for the opportunity”.

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