Stories of Hope from Afghanistan and Darfur

Celeste Gregory '01 has spent 10 years working for Catholic Relief Services, creating grassroots change and opportunities in war-torn and developing regions.

Celeste draws a distribution site plan during a volunteer training.
Celeste draws a distribution site plan during a volunteer training.

The challenges of serving in dangerous, war-torn areas like Afghanistan and the Darfur region of Sudan are many: language and cultural barriers, distance from home, insecure environments, the discomforts of life in the developing world. But Catholic Relief Services volunteers and employees like Celeste Gregory ’01 tackle all those challenges and more for the moments when their work makes a tangible difference in the lives of those who need it most.

“At Scranton, we talked a lot about the magis and being men and women for and with others. Working with CRS is a continuation of that magis,” said Gregory, who works as a technical advisor for emergency response at Catholic Relief Services and was featured in the spring issue of The Scranton Journal. “These situations can be overwhelming, but what keeps me going are the glimmers of hope.”

Like the woman in Darfur, who enrolled in the literacy and numeracy program that Gregory helped establish, told her, “Before taking this class I didn’t know how to identify a number or a letter, but now I go to the market and read the scales; I know that I’m not being cheated by local merchants.”

“Those are heartfelt moments,” Gregory said. “It’s a small thing, but it made such a huge difference in that woman’s life.”

The same can be said of the potato farmers she worked with in Afghanistan. In the Central Highlands area where Gregory lived and worked, farmers typically bury their potato crop for storage during the winter, then dig them up in the spring. Often this leads to a loss of nearly 75 percent of the potato harvest in which many of the potatoes rot underground. So, Gregory and the CRS team helped develop a subterranean ventilation system that costs the equivalent of five U.S. dollars and keeps the potatoes from rotting.

“I never thought I could get so excited about potatoes, but it is their main crop and so important to their livelihood,” she said. “After using the ventilation systems, the farmers only had 1-2 percent potato loss. Now, they have high-quality potatoes that they can sell at the market for a higher price during the off-season. The project not only contributes to food security, but also to household economics.”

Gregory relishes the successful projects that CRS has implemented across the world, but also emphasizes that being present to the people involved is equally important.

“To really talk to the people and let them tell their story, what they’ve experienced, it lets them know that we are here to support them,” she said. “That’s what really keeps me going. It’s hard, but it is also a privilege to be able to support around the world.”

Read the profile of Gregory, here.

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