Children In Crossfire ‘a lifeline’

Shauna O'Neill from Children In Crossfire pictured with Sr Maura Byrne, who spent 40 years in Africa and helped deliver some of the charity's vital programmes.
Shauna O'Neill from Children In Crossfire pictured with Sr Maura Byrne, who spent 40 years in Africa and helped deliver some of the charity's vital programmes.

A nun who has worked in Africa for half her life has thanked local people who have supported Children in Crossfire in the vital work being carried out there.

Sister Maura Byrne has witnessed everything from the Biafran War in Nigeria to the famines of Ethiopia at close quarters.

The 79-year-old had been training medical staff in an Ethiopian village for many years through scholarships set up by Children In Crossfire, before here recent semi-retirement and return to Ireland.

The village where Sr Maura was based is Wolisso, 140 kms south of Addis Ababa and the training took place at a hospital with a large outreach area.

“The situation generally speaking today is better than it was. Years ago it would have been communist controlled when I was there and then when the Berlin Wall fell things improved, but it took a few years. It’s a better situation now than it was then.”

Sr Maura, originally from Castledermot in south Kildare, was there for the Famines of 1974-5. “That was the one when the communist revolution took place and they got rid of Haile Selassie. I was there for the one in 1984-5. There was a lot of hardship.

“Children In Crossfire gave us 45 to 50 nurse training scholarships which meant that the people that were trained were the poor people who would otherwise not have been able to afford it.

“When they finished their training we had good people who were giving a good service.

“One of the big problems is malnutrition and that is an area Children In Crossfire have done a lot about.

“There are four seasons in Ethiopia, two wet, two dry. If the rain doesn’t come, the crops can’t be sown. That leads to famine.”

Sr Maura, who is with the Holy Rosary Sisters order, said that after a particular period of hardship, the Ethiopian government started up villages and settled people in them.

“The reason was they wanted to promote communist values. One day this bus came into this village and this boy never saw a bus before. This young lad Harry he got up in the bus and landed 650 kms away from his mother. So he had a difficult time for a few years. The Mayor brought him into his own house and he had an education and then later he got a Children in Crossfire scholarship.”

Young Harry’s story was one of many extraordinary tales Sr Maura has amassed, and there was a further twist to this particular story in that the boy was later reunited with his family.

He also became a deacon in the Christian country’s main denomination, the Orthodox Church, He also met and fell in love with a local girl and asked Sr Maura if she would qualify for a scholarship. Both have gone on to graduate and they now have two children.

Another nursing scholarship recipient was a girl who lost her mother during a famine and who was raised by nuns in an orphanage.

Children In Crossfire is also involved in building wells in Ethiopia, which Sr Maura described as marvellous work.

Sr Maura currently resides with the Killeshandra Holy Rosary Sisters in County Cavan.

She sad she fell in love with Africa during her time in Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia and remains in contact with the friends she has made.

She is also at pains to point out how rich the cultural history of Ethiopia is and that it was one of the earliest civilizations and one of the most important players on the world stage since Biblical times at least.

Paying tribute to Sr Maura, Shauna O’Neill from Children In Crossfire said: “It is so important to give feedback to the people who are donating to show the impact it is directly having on the people of Ethiopia and to have first hand experience accounts from people who dedicate their lives to that work is just a blessing
for us.”