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By our own correspondent

Adwa, Ethiopia (AET Viceprovince), 28 October 2020 -- On 20 October 2020, the Vietnamese Embassy in Tanzania sent an appreciation letter to (Duc cha = Father) Joseph Trinh Kinh Luan, Vietnamese Salesian missionary, serving since 2008 in Ethiopia. His merit was to assist the repatriation of 55 young Vietnamese migrant workers who were stranded due to the pandemic far away from their homeland. At present he is assigned to the community of Adwa as economer and also as Provincial delegate for mission animation.

This is Fr. Luan's version of events:

During this Covid-19 Pandemic, I have been assisting in the repatriation of many Vietnamese nationals, most of them young migrant workers abandoned by their companies and stranded in many parts of Ethiopia. Since I am a bit familiar with the culture and the language of the people, I became a point of reference for the Vietnamese government through the Vietnamese Embassy in Tanzania (NB - there is no Vietnamese embassy in Ethiopia).

It was an adventure never experienced before. During the whole operation I didn't meet face-to-face with any one of them. First I was doing the identification exercise of the stranded Vietnamese workers, then assisting in their documentation processes, arranging their food and accommodation in hotels, processing the required medical examinations and insurances that are needed for travel. With the lack of commercial flights, I was working to book most of them on the chartered flights organized by the Vietnamese government in conjunction with Ethiopian Airlines. As of now, together with the Vietnamese Embassy in Tanzania, concurrently with the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, I have managed to help 55 Vietnamese nationals in different rounds return safely. Now these young people are reunited with their families back in Vietnam. There are about 10 others who are on the waiting list to be assisted in the same way.

Although this work is still ongoing, my commitment has been appreciated by the Vietnamese government through its letter of acknowledgement and special gratitude sent to me. Yes, it has been a very risky exercise to help those in need since we were never able to meet personally. Some had been stranded in airports for weeks before I could identify them and help them out. After the pandemic affected their companies, they had no money for their daily upkeep and accommodation. I had to respond to the call to lift these young people out of this situation by supporting them whatever I can do, and above all, arrange their happy reunion with their families.

Due to lockdowns and restricted movements adopted by many governments, it has been difficult to work on their documentation. I have to contact many offices and friends whom I know working in different places in order to manage the documents and air tickets. Although we do not know each other, it was a great joy for me to accompany those young people during this difficult time. I am sure that this is the new frontier of our Salesian mission, giving hope and love to those most in need. In this way, we are witnessing the Gospel and the Salesian spirit before non-Catholics and both governments of Ethiopia and Vietnam."

Adwa, where Fr Luan is located, is also affected by the Covid19 pandemic, although with just a dozen cases. But the Adwa Don Bosco community (started in 1988; at present with a parish, technical college, aspirantate and oratory) is actively involved in alleviating the suffering, especially of lonely senior citizens. The large agricultural space not fully maximized during the last 10 years, is now among the important targets of the SDB community for more agricultural products and also for livestock.

The Salesian presences in Ethiopia Vice-province (AET, provincial Fr. Hailemariam Medhin) were started a few years earier, in 1975. Now the 100 SDBs are spread all around the country and in charge of the Apostolic Vicariate of Gambela. The Viceprovince (AET) welcomed two new Salesians after finishing their novitiate on 8 September 2020.

Among the EAO missionaries in Ethiopia we know Br. Cesare Bullo (formerly of VIE), Fr Joseph Luan (VIE), Fr Joseph Phong (VIE) and Br Ephrem Umandal (FIN). God knows why - all four of them are in charge of their house economy.

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