WRITTEN BY STAFF WRITER
In Ethiopia, Christians and Muslims live peacefully side-by-side, but they don’t always see eye-to-eye when it comes to education. And though they live amicably in the same communities, they hold distinct religious beliefs and social practices.
|MOSQUE (Image courtesy www.ozoneeleven.com)
As a Christian organization, Food for the Hungry (FH) commits to serving those in need regardless of race, religion, or political persuasion. In light of this commitment, FH Ethiopia has been working with both Muslim and Christian enclaves in their partner communities since 2008. Through the Child Sponsorship program, FH Ethiopia has been faithfully serving all vulnerable children in the area.
Local leaders, together with FH staff, identified the families that would most benefit from participating in the Child Sponsorship program – roughly half from the Christian sector and half from the Muslim sector.
At first, the Muslim families chosen to participate in the Food for the Hungry program did not want their children to receive mainstream education. Parents generally preferred that they attend the local Qu'ranic school exclusively, where they could study the Qu'ran - the Muslim holy book that is the heartbeat of their religion.
|A TEACHER HOLDS OPEN A TEXTBOOK
The parents’ reluctance understandably arose from a fear that FH Ethiopia would try to proselytize the students. Many chose not to have their children enrolled for sponsorship, even though FH offered to financially and educationally assist all selected children in need, both Muslim and Christian.
The mistrust and voluntary segregation between Muslims and Christians in Sasiga should be no surprise. Historically, factions within each of these religions has persecuted the other – even to the point of bloodshed. And while Ethiopia primarily enjoys religious tolerance, the horn of Africa is no stranger to religious violence.
Through patient persistence, however, Food for the Hungry Ethiopia staff were able to slowly earn the trust and respect of the Muslim community; as a result, parents began showing interest in allowing their children to attend non-Islamic schools in addition to their Qu'ranic studies.
|STUDENTS WITH THEIR TEACHER AT THE MADRAS SCHOOL
One unexpected outcome of Food for the Hungry programs in the area has been the increased social mixing of the Muslim and Christian segments in Sasiga. This has included sharing significant community events like weddings and funerals, something that never would have happened before their involvement in the Child Sponsorship program began breaking down barriers in the community.
Through Child Sponsorship, Food for the Hungry Ethiopia has been able to impact not only children’s education, but the entire life of a community. And in this small way, has been a part of increased cooperation and understanding between the Muslim and Christian families of Sasiga, Ethiopia.