Nyangatom is an area that is difficult to access; it is located in the southernmost part of Ethiopia, bordering South Sudan and Kenya. The few rural tracks in the area are in very poor condition and passable only with 4WD vehicles appropriate to the rough terrain. During the rain season roads become completely impassable due to mud and flooding, thus paralyzing terrestrial communication completely. Its topography consists of a vast plain of clay and black cotton soil with several volcanic mountain ranges to the west and north. The region lies within the Rift Valley, and the altitude varies from the 2,000m high Naita Hills on the west bordering South Sudan, and 380m by the banks of the Omo River to the east.
Direct: 10,000 Nyangatom people living in the area around the border with Kenya.
Indirect: 5,000 Turkana people who live across the border in the Ilemi Triangle who will also benefit from the improved peace situation, which the project aims to achieve as well.
However, the scope of this project in the long run will be to undertake the holistic evangelization of all the communities who live in the south-western Lower Omo Valley in the Apostolic Vicariate of Jima-Bonga, i.e. the Nyangatom and the Surma (totalling some 30,000), as well as to assist in the pastoral attention of the Nyangatom nomadic communities (totalling some 40,000 persons) who live at the border with South Sudan in the Diocese of Torit.
The presence of the MCSPA in the Apostolic Vicariate of Jima-Bonga dates back to 2001, when Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the then Apostolic Nuncio to Ethiopia, asked the founder of the community, Fr. Francisco Andreo, to open a mission in the south-western part of Ethiopia, in order to connect with MCSPA’s missions in the north of Kenya. Archbishop Tomasi saw this initiative as an opportunity for the Catholic Church to grow in Ethiopia (currently, less than a 1% of the population is Catholic), by going into these vast regions of the south and west of the country, such as Nyangatom, were there is a neglible presence of the Orthodox Church and most of the people are still animists. These areas are both very remote and in dire need of Christian charity and solidarity.
Since then, the MCSPA has worked in the apostolic vicariate by carrying out different development projects; a Mother and Child Centre at Mizan Teferi, a nutritional unit at Gacheb, and a small-scale farming project for families linked with the digging of shallow wells at each farm. In 2009 the current Apostolic Vicar of Jima-Bonga, Msgr. Markos Gebremedhin, asked the MCSPA to open a second mission in the vicariate. Since then, MCSPA members have been in contact with the Nyangatom community. Through dialogue with some elders and local authorities, it has been observed that one of the main problems that affect both Nyangatom and Turkana is the lack of water and the insecurity. During the trips made to the area by members of the MCSPA, elders expressed their desire that the Catholic Church establishes herself in the area and help the Nyangatom community.
In December 2012, the Bishop of Lodwar, Msgr. Dominic Kimengich (the neighbouring diocese to Jima-Bonga toward the south) invited other bishops from the regions bordering Turkana (Kenya), to the Silver Jubilee of the Diocese of Lodwar. With the occasion of this celebration he asked MCSPA members to organise the first “Peace and Cross Border Evangelization Conference in the Lake Turkana Basin”, aimed at bringing together neighbouring catholic dioceses across different countries in order to start a dialogue on peace and cross-border evangelization.
These neighbouring regions suffer the same problems, i.e. drought, a lack of resources, cattle raids, insecurity, poverty and marginalization. Catholic dioceses have also been separated from each other by international boundaries, but they are now coming together to dialogue and establish practical links of collaboration among themselves, in order to share resources and personnel, and work together for the peace and prosperity of these peoples. Some of the activities that have sprung from this conference are the sharing of resources and personnel among dioceses and the visitation of the different bishops and parishes to the affected areas across the borders.
As a consequence of this conference both the Bishop of Lodwar and the Apostolic Vicar of Jima-Bonga, have shared views about the huge need of the people of these areas and they have agreed to share personnel. The target region is located just across the border with Kenya, and it is very much accessible from the Kenyan side (Turkana), which falls under the Diocese of Lodwar. Both, the Turkana and Nyangatom tribes, their enmity notwithstanding, share the same language, which makes it easier for pastoral agents from the Turkana side to understand the language and culture of the Nyangatom. The main objective of this project would be to set up a base from where missionaries could carry out pastoral and development projects aimed at furthering evangelization and improving the living standards of the local population.
Present Situation and Plan
In April 2013 a commissioned catechist of the Turkana tribe from the Diocese of Lodwar was posted to work among the Nyangatom. From January 2014, two priest members of the MCSPA, who have been working in the Diocese of Lodwar for 12 years, have been released to dedicate themselves fully to this apostolate.
- In July 2014 we carried out a study of the basic needs of the population through interviews in the nine village-clusters of the Nakwua area.
- The drilling of the first four boreholes in the area was done by July 2014.
- We also established a semi-permanent camp at Kakuta with local fencing, tents, and latrine so that pastoral agents may stay for longer periods of time in the area.
The Objectives of the Mission will be the following:
- Improving access to water for the people and their animals through the drilling of boreholes and the excavation of earth pans.
- Improving food security through the training of the local population in farming skills as well as the establishment of permanent farms.
- Improving the nutritional status of the most vulnerable through the establishment of nursery schools.
- Improving animal health by providing training and medical kits to 18 shepherds from different villages.
- Training of members of the local community on issues like better animal health practices, hygiene and sanitation, better agricultural practices, cross-border issues, peace and conflict resolution.
- Improving education through the teaching of English and Adult Education.
- Fostering peace through different peace initiatives.
- Furthering evangelization through Christian Initiation of Adults, pastoral care of Christians, the training of local pastoral agents and the teaching of catechesis to adults and children.