Walking side by side


The Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) asks Scots to fill a week box every Lent to help fund their work overseas.  SCIAF’s media and communications officer explains the complex problems it helps to address and the difference it makes to the lives of poor and hungry people.

Ethiopia is a country where climate change is not a campaign rallying call, or a global political football, but a problem with potentially deadly consequences.  The people of this beautiful African nation are proud of their heritage, but many live in a harsh environment where changes to the climate are making it much harder to survive.

More frequent, severe droughts and floods wipe out crops and destroy homes, leaving millions of families hungry, poorer and often destitute.  SCIAF’s WEE BOX Lent appeal this year tells the story of poor cattle herders in the southern region of Borana whose way of life is under threat.

In 2011 a major drought across East Africa led to the death of 65,000 cattle in Borana alone.  Families who depend on their cows, goats and camels for milk, food, and income faced a desperate situation.  SCIAF launched an emergency appeal at the time and one of the families who benefitted feature on this year’s WEE BOX.

Carfi, Kabale and their three children come from a long line of cattle herders, stretching back generations.  When drought swept through their village their cattle died, leaving them penniless and struggling to survive.  They often went hungry.

Working through a local organisation, ACORD, SCIAF gave the family goats, a camel and a donkey to replace the animals which had died.  The family’s herd is now growing and they have a good supply of milk from the goats and camels.  Carfi and Kabele also sell milk at the market so they can earn some money.

When SCIAF recently visited Carfi and his family, he told us that life is still hard but his family’s situation is much better because of the help they received.

‘Life is difficult here,’ he said.  ‘Some people only eat once a day.  Before your help, we were paralysed by poverty.  I was desperate.  My children would see their friends drinking milk and they would be envious.

‘I can’t believe how different life is for me and my family.  Now my children have milk of their own to drink – and enough to share with others.  I’m able to sell the milk of two camels at market.  I bought my oldest daughter a uniform and shoes so she can go to school.  I have been helped, and now I help others.’

When families like Carfi and Kabele’s are hit by drought, SCIAF and the local organisations we work with help in many ways.  People can earn money clearing areas of bush to improve grazing land for their animals or digging ponds to capture more water when the rains do come.  Older people, pregnant mothers and children can get food and cash, as well as drought-resistant seeds, water filters and water storage tanks.

SCIAF is also supporting an innovative insurance scheme which pays out when the area of grassland, on which cattle depend on for food to stay alive, is reduced below an agreed level.

Guyo Denge, Programme Manager for SCIAF’s partner organisation, CIFA, explained how it works: ‘To date, communities have used traditional ways of coping with drought such as selling cattle and migrating.  However traditional ways have been failing and Index Based Livestock Insurance is a way to help them cope

‘Satellite images are monitored by the International Livestock Research Institute in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city.  When the area of pastureland falls below an agreed level the insurance company pays those who have bought insurance.  These “livestock protection” payments help people to buy feed and medicine to keep their animals alive.

‘We provide a 35% subsidy for the premium (less than £10) in the first year to encourage more people to sign up.  Over the last few years the number of people taking part in the pilot has been increasing.  Now we have organised village insurance promoters, publications, community meetings and training’.

The spectre of drought is never far away in Ethiopia.  The last few months have seen a worsening drought in many parts of the country leaving over 10 million people needing emergency food supplies.  SCIAF has already sent £80,000 to help and is closely monitoring the situation.

Patricia Wall, the Ethiopia country director for SCIAF and its sister agencies CAFOD and Trocaire, believes the country is better able to deal with the current crisis but the problems people face are still huge.

‘We’ve seen huge improvements in how crises are handled since 2011 and earlier droughts.  Nowadays there is a much more co-ordinated, resourced and planned response to the problem.  The country is much better placed to respond than in the past.

‘However, help is still needed.  There are economic, social and personal impacts of climate change.  Less water means it takes longer to get the water that families and their cattle need, and the burden often falls on women and girls.  Many are now having to walk for six hours for water in some places.  Education is affected too.  If schools don’t have water they don’t open.  Children may have to spend more time looking for water.  At the moment, around a fifth of the population needs emergency support.  There has been great progress in reducing poverty and hunger in recent years and we don’t want to lose those gains.  But with the drought and worsening situation with climate change we could see money moved from long term development projects to pay for emergency programmes.’

The hardships faced by the Ethiopian people are something we can all do something about by supporting the WEE BOX Lent appeal this year.  Whether it’s providing emergency support to people affected by droughts, floods and other disasters in Ethiopia and beyond, long term help with seeds, farming tools and loans to help people grow food and set up new businesses, or campaigning for change, your support of our WEE BOX Lent appeal will really make a difference.

Parishes and schools walk side by side with people in poverty by supporting SCIAF.  SCIAF’s volunteers and staff would be delighted to visit to say thank you, run workshops and discussion groups, or give presentations sharing stories, photos and videos from some of the communities they are helping around the world.  Every Lent we also help children to learn about global issues and how they can help, with WEE BOX appeal related lesson plans, classroom activities, videos and Powerpoint presentations.


To arrange for a SCIAF speakers to visit your parish or school, find out more about classroom resources, and to get your own WEE BOX, call 0141 354 5555 or email sciaf@sciaf.org.uk.

Feb/Mar 2020

In June 2019 Open House held a conference exploring possible new directions for the Catholic Church in Scotland. See conference papers.

Open House also held a conference on the role of lay people in the governance of the Catholic Church in November 2013. See conference papers.