ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

A Letter From Eritrea

A De La Salle brother looks back, and forward, to a mission of service

Hagaz Agro Technical School is about 75 miles north of Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, a country in the Horn of Africa that claimed independence in 1991, formalizing it through a public referendum two years later.

Agriculture is significant to the economy of the country. In the 1990s, there was a need to teach agricultural techniques. The government approached the Catholic Church, asking if it could open an agricultural school in Hagaz, a city in the center of the country, situated in the Anseba Region.

Church leaders put the request to the Brothers of the Christian Schools, commonly known as the De La Salle Brothers, who started the project in 1997 and received its first group of students in 1999. 

The boarding school is located on almost 100 acres of land donated by the government. The land was arid and the sun was harsh. The scarcity of water made it more difficult to have a farm and a school of agriculture. The only hope was to access groundwater.

The brothers, together with donors, dug four wells and two boreholes, and the school introduced a drip irrigation system in order to manage the little water. With strict and careful water management, the school was turned into a fruitful and beautiful oasis, which our students used to call “Eden.” It was a miracle and a model.

Students learn about agriculture in their outdoor classrooms in Eritrea.
Under the leadership of the De La Salle Brothers, Hagaz Agro Technical School offered hands-on learning opportunities in agriculture. The De La Salle Brothers opened the school in 1997 to bolster the country’s agriculture sector and raise up a community of trained agriculturists. (photo: courtesy Hagaz Agro Technical School)

Our students came from all over the country, mostly from rural areas and farming families, but also from all tribes, religions and regions. However, we created a culture — a loving school community — wonderfully open to each other.

With the cooperation of the government, the church, the De La Salle Brothers, the Ursuline Sisters, the donors and the local people, the school gave excellent service to the nation by training young people at the high school and college levels in agriculture. The school trained local farmers, gave technical assistance, created employment opportunities, supplied drinking water to nearby villages and contributed to the market through its production.

“Our mission is to be closer to the young … It will not be as formal as before, but we will be there to help our youth and children.”

The school was influential in introducing new agricultural technology, in its method of training, in its cooperation with the local people, in its philosophy of self-sufficiency and in its ability to create a united school community, despite the many potentially divisive issues. This has been the history of the school since its foundation to date.

In my experience, CNEWA has been one of those donors that journeyed with us, especially in our most difficult moments over the past 20 years, through its consistent annual subsidies and support for specific projects.

There was a time when we had a water shortage as a result of our old water pumps, and our boreholes were full of sand. The climate was hot and the groundwater was low. It was not easy for the water pumps to continue pumping 24 hours a day for months; they could break down easily. If drinking and irrigation water were to flow on campus, then the water pumps had to be repaired immediately. Thanks to CNEWA, which came to our assistance, we were able to flush the boreholes and buy new water pumps.

Students learn about agriculture in their indoor classrooms in Eritrea.
Students listen to a class lecture at Hagaz Agro Technical School. (photo: courtesy Hagaz Agro Technical School)

In addition, most of our students came from poor farming families. Unfortunately, we would encounter students — male and female — who came without the basic necessities. These students were able to complete their studies without stress, thanks to CNEWA’s intervention.

St. John Baptist de La Salle, the founder of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, would always tell the brothers to rely on God’s providence. At the multipurpose hall of Hagaz Agro Technical School, a motto hangs on the wall that says, “Teaching minds and touching hearts.”

Over 25 years, the desert was turned to fertile green land; a loving school community was created despite many dividing factors; a technically well-equipped school was staffed by motivated and hardworking teachers; quality education was offered; quality production was brought to the market; and donors were brought together to create a wonderful school.

As for me, I see nothing but the hand of God. Thanks be to God and all the people who sacrificed their lives under the scorching sun and who were on this great journey, creating such a wonderful school and giving meaningful service to the people of Eritrea.

Today, it is my hope, as the government takes over the administration and ownership of the school, that the school’s mission will continue and its vision will expand.

As far as the De La Salle Brothers’ mission is concerned, it will continue. Our mission is to be open to where God is sending us. We are available to his plan and to the service of our people. We are opening new ministries within the country. We have many children and young people who seek our support. The need comes in many faces. Our mission is to be closer to the young, offering them spiritual, psychological, moral, social, physical and intellectual support. It will not be as formal as before, but we will be there to help our youth and children. We are open to God’s voice and ready to go wherever he sends us.

Dear CNEWA family, may the suffering, incarnated Jesus Christ be always with you and encourage you, as you continue in service to God, through his church. Thank you for your wonderful journey with us these past 20 years at Hagaz Agro Technical School. I invite you to continue journeying with us, as faithful as ever, in the new ministries we will begin.

Brother Esayas Tzegay is a member of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in Eritrea.

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