Parish of St. Thomas More Manalapan, New Jersey

June 26, 2008

Okusuubira: Bring hope to Uganda

Diocesan partnership with Ugandan diocese bearing fruit

Mary Goss visits with the women in the village of Mulajje on a recent visit to Uganda. She came into the village and all the women put on their best clothing to meet with her. Goss said that the work done by Catholic Relief Services is based on forming relationships with local people. All photos courtesy of Mary Goss

By Mary Goss
In the summer of 2001, the Diocese of Trenton and the Diocese of Kasana-Luweero established a partnership agreement: a call to commitment, mutuality and love signed by Bishop John M. Smith and Bishop Cyprian Lwanga. The partnership was a response to the Holy Father’s call to solidarity by building bridges between the two dioceses. The main focus was to address the many needs created by the pandemic of the HIV/AIDS in this African nation.

Uganda paints such a contrasting picture, one of tremendous beauty and one of tremendous poverty. The average income is less than one dollar a day. The reality of life in Kasana-Luweero is very desperate. If you have nothing, hope vanishes into thin air. Lack of hope destroys your heart and soul. As we celebrate our seventh year of partnership, let us reflect on the many positive changes that are happening.

They can be summed up in one word - HOPE – "Okusuubira".

Okusuubira: in the development of friendships and many relationships. Strong bonds are being established by the sharing of pen pal letters. Love is growing between children and their sponsors.

Okusuubira: in the form of education. Many orphan and vulnerable children are being sponsored through the partnership. These poor children now enjoy the opportunity to have uniforms, schoolbooks, and school supplies. They are receiving the priceless gift of an education. Young men and women are being supported in religious vocations. The education of the children in Uganda is the key to ending the cycle of poverty that exists.

Okusuubira: in the form of clean water. Many water tanks and boreholes are now providing villages and schools with access to water. People no longer have to walk 3 to 4 hours every day to get water for cooking, cleaning, drinking and washing.

Okusuubira: in the form of “Wekembe” which is a Lugandan word that means, “we do it ourselves”. Wekembe micro-financing projects give dignity to women. These projects enable women to form village banks. Through the banks, the women are empowered in their villages and homes to earn money for education, nutrition and health care. Womens’ village banks promote both economic growth and dignity. In a culture where women are considered to be inferior to men, this is an extraordinary opportunity for them to become self-dependent. These women set an example for other women and their daughters.

Okusuubira: in the form of health and medical care. The past year has brought much change to the Bishop Asili Clinic and the 11 clinics in the bush. Insecticide treated bed nets for the prevention of malaria were distributed to pregnant mothers and young children thus saving many lives. With funds donated from Trenton, medical supplies were purchased to start HIV/AIDS testing for children, for the first time ever. In one month, 4,000 children were tested. Antiretroviral drugs, which were never available, are now being dispensed.

Cutting the ribbon on a "Pig Project" for the Village of Kasenene with the women of the village.
Okusuubira: in the form of nutrition. Gardens are being planted in schools, villages and the clinics. These gardens provide one meal a day for the farmers and their families. This is critical to saving the lives of so many children who suffer from malnutrition. Pig and chicken projects are being started in some Ugandan parishes, extending out to the rural poor. These are opportunities to generate income to improve their standard of living. These small animal projects equip youth and adults with skills to create jobs and to improve their diets.

Okusuubira: in the form of shelter and transportation. Classrooms and eating shelters are being built. Bicycles and motorcycles are being provided to those who provide help to the sick and dying in the isolated villages.

Okusuubira: in the form of help for the prisoners. Blankets are being given to the prisoners, responding to the call to “clothe the naked”. A water tank is being constructed in Butuntumula Prison, responding to the call to “give drink to the thirsty”.

As I prepare to visit Kasana-Luweero this August, I am grateful for all the good things that are happening as a result of our partnership. I am aware that this is just a start. The needs and opportunities to continue helping are great. Teaching basic hygiene, using a bar of soap and clean water can prevent 40% of the diseases that kill children in Africa. The war in Kenya has caused havoc with the economy. The rising food prices are increasing the threat of famine in Uganda.

A woman from Kanyogga giving Mary Goss a gift of eggs. "The people are so sincere and generous." "This was probably all the food she had."
During my next visit, I look forward to seeing the patches of green laid out on the red earth; naked children tending goats and cows; and Mamas bent, with legs straight and knees locked, pulling weeds, harvesting vegetables, washing clothes in round, bright blue plastic containers. I long to see the beautiful smiling faces of the children that haunt me; I constantly feel the tug of Uganda’s children upon my heart. Although we live worlds apart, we are so alike. We have much to learn from each other. The poor in Luweero have a lot to teach us. Their values, not their material things, dominate their lives; family, faith, sharing, caring, conversation, and appreciation of small blessings. As Jesus embraced the poor and then said to us “Come follow me”, I am asking you to help us to continue to embrace the poor in our sister Diocese of Kasana-Luweero.

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