St George’s Church is one of 11 in Lalibela, hewn out of the solid rock. When it is full inside, pilgrims gather at the hilltop to join in the chanting.
Lalibela, our base in Ethiopia, is a remote town in a beautiful location at 2,600 metres above sea level in the Ethiopian Highlands with surrounding peaks approaching 4,000 metres. It is situated in the Axumite kingdom of Biblical times. In the late 12th and 13th centuries, amazing rock-hewn monolithic churches were built. They are still in excellent condition and in regular use for Christian worship today.
In the period of the Derg, 1971-1993, poverty was extreme due to government mismanagement and corruption. This was compounded in 1984-86 by drought and the Regime’s refusal to allow aid into the famine area. 1-2 million people died, 2.5 million were internally displaced and 200,000 children were orphaned. The epicentre of this disaster was the area immediately north of Lalibela, the area in which we are working. Conditions are better now, but still below the average for Ethiopia.
A new government in 1993 led to a period of substantial economic development with GDP growth rates up to 10% per year. Lalibela town benefited from a new all-weather airport and roads, which improved access. In 1978 UNESCO recognised Lalibela churches and the historic surrounding village as a World Heritage Site. This put Lalibela firmly on the tourist map. However, the surrounding rural areas gained little benefit.
Almost all tourists to Ethiopia visit Lalibela. Whilst there, a possible programme can include one or two days visiting the town’s history, with an extra day added to visit our projects. We welcome visitors! Such a holiday can then continue with excellent connecting flights on Ethiopian Airlines to many game reserves and coastal resorts.