Salesian Lay Missioner Stephen Lilly will be finishing two years serving as a teacher in Soddo, Ethiopia.
Often on a quiet morning the sound of a horn will drone out into the distance. Moments later the shouts of a man can be heard. The sounds approach and then recede as the town crier makes his rounds through the town and the surrounding area. I’ve been told that he is announcing the latest meetings or news from the city or at other times marriages, funerals, and other important events. It also serves as a reminder for me to announce my own important news: I’ll soon be coming home.
After almost two years in Ethiopia, I will be returning to the US on July 1st. The last two years have brought great development and growth at Don Bosco Soddo, and I am glad that I have had the opportunity to witness and partake in the work. I feel very proud of our students. Even though they are still young, I see great potential and energy in their work and interests. As I watch them participating in the classroom, playing on the field, reading in the library, performing plays and songs, sculpting and building, and interacting with each other I have great hope for this new generation. I pray that their enthusiasm continues and that the Salesians maintain their good work.
There have been many encouraging signs over the past year. For example, the students at the school now enjoy participating in a media club, a sports club, a life skills club, a history club, and a school safety club. Choirs and dance groups have been organized. Students from other schools in grades 7-10 are offered free tutorial classes after school to help them prepare for the national exams. The library is now open until 5pm on school days and in the morning on Saturdays.
32 team soccer tournaments continue to be organized for different age groups. The playground of the school also is open to the children of the community every day after school.
The teachers are also taking greater initiative in engaging students in creative work and experiences outside of the classroom. I enjoy watching the students plunge into art projects using papier mache, clay, and other materials. Some students have been constructing a traditional Wolaitgna house and making a plow by hand for their Wolaitgna class. Others are making their own musical instruments.
Some classes have taken field trips to a prehistoric cave only a few miles walk from the school. Archeologists from the United States and other countries have been excavating the cave where people had been living at least 55,000 years ago, and the students are learning about their work.
The mission of the Salesians in Soddo has also grown. The new rector at the community is now the chaplain at the prison, so we have been celebrating mass there every Sunday. Also the Salesian community has been supporting the youth ministry initiatives of the Catholic Vicariate of Soddo by preaching for youth festivals and leading retreats for university students. The Relic of Don Bosco also visited Soddo, and the Salesians used the event to spread awareness of who Don Bosco was and his style of pedagogy.
The school year will finish in 2 weeks, and then I’ll be flying home.
I certainly will miss the children, but I know that they are in good hands. I know that in the future they will have much reason to blow a horn and announce their good news.
At the end of each day at the youth center there is a “Good Night”
talk from the rector of the community. He gives some good thought to the children, and then he leads them in a prayer. Before sending the kids home the rector shouts “A Big Big,” and the kids respond by screaming “Ciao!” As I leave Ethiopia, I say the same. “A Big Big Ciao!”
I look forward to seeing many of you soon!