St. Kizito Parish, Missions, Clinic and School
Mission Awareness Pilgrimage
November 3 14 , 2011
Cheri Kluever, OCDS
My memory of the recent Mission Awareness Pilgrimage to Uganda takes me to the beauty of the country with it lush green foliage, breath taking landscapes, the sounds of children laughing, and the sounds of birds, roosters, goats and cattle on waking each morning. The depth of this experience took me far beyond these superficial things that only a tourist would remember.
On our first evening at Mityana we were greeted by throngs of children running, cheering and singing as our crowded bus bumped along the dusty red clay road with deep ruts leading up to the church. The children had waited standing for two hours to greet us! We sang and danced together in the rain but it became abundantly clear Fr. David was who they had waited and longed to see again!
I was deeply touched and honored to be invited to dinner at the home of Lillian, the young woman my husband and I sponsor. She is now attending Makerere University in Kampala. Fr. Edmond took me to her home located in the middle of acres of bananas via his four wheeled drive vehicle. The structure was made of bricks and stucco with a concrete floor. One small room was used for eating and sitting. A back room was used as a sleeping space for the entire family of five children and Mom and Dad. Cooking was done in a separate small detached building with a dirt floor and open fire. There was no electricity and no running water. Pride of ownership was apparent as we removed our shoes to enter the home and washed our hands from a water jug at the front door. The dinner served was a feast consisting of chicken, goat, potatoes, rice, greens, another type of green vegetable of which I was not familiar, plantain (matoke) and bananas. As the meal went on, night fall came and a kerosene lantern was placed on the small coffee table with the food. The big news of the day was the family cow will have a calf! I was deeply touched by the generosity and love with which hospitality was extended. When the sumptuous meal was finished I was presented with a large basket of bananas and another large basket of avocados, papaya and several dozen eggs.
I thought about all the work that had gone into preparing this meal and the many sacrifices made to ensure the quality as well as quantity of the food and the gifts with which I was presented. I thought about the length of time it had taken to prepare this meal and I was humbled. Before I left, Lillians father knelt before me and slowly said, Thank you sponsor Lillian. As my eyes became moist I was grateful for the darkness of the room to be able to privately take in that moment. Blessed are the poor for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
This account would not be complete without mentioning the wonderful experience of attending a Ugandan mass! The masses were at least two hours long. We had mass in the bush as well as small towns but the affect was the same, joyous. You could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit as everyone gave a resounding applause at the consecration! When the gifts were presented, I watched with wonder as sugar cane, baskets of fruit and eggs and yes, even a live chicken were presented. I felt the joy of the living Christ when I heard the melodious singing and the drums. We attended a daily mass at Ttumbu. The little church was on a grassy knoll overlooking the school. It was literally tumbling down with openings with no windows. Ill never know how all of us got into that church. Of course, the generosity of the Ugandan people allowed us to have front row seats as thirteen infants were baptized and that was at weekday Mass!!!!! Ill always remember a young girl of about eight who sat just in front of me. I noticed she was one of the few children without shoes. As I observed her without her knowing, I saw her reach out to a paper bag one of the parishioners had and carefully cover her feet. A big smile spread across her face. After mass, lunch and entertainment, we were invited to attend a soccer game. It felt just like the many school soccer games Ive attended. The energy was high. Cheer leaders spurred on their team waving banana leaves. The crowd cheered heartily as the soccer ball pierced through the goal posts made of tree limbs! We are all so alike. It was amazing to visit the sewing room where students were taught to sew using treadle sewing machines like our great grandmothers used. There was no electricity. I smiled to see signs in school that read boys and girls are equally as clever and choose a future, choose a career, choose abstinence. It was amazing to see how far the effort of the Uganda mission has come remembering pictures of the original building that looked like a pile of rubble. Let the children come to me and do not prevent them for the kingdom of God belongs to them. Luke 18:16
I only scratched the surface of learning about the Ugandan cultural system and the importance of family and extended family. The safety net of the extended family was largely destroyed by the long years of war and then the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Children who would ideally be cared for by an uncle, aunt or grandparent in the case of losing their biological parents, now found that there was no head of family to look to for care and protection. The clan system was also weakened in many areas where heads of families were wiped out, leaving a chain of dependants with nowhere to go. When I returned home, I was asked if $20 a month really makes a difference in sponsoring a child. My answer was a resounding yes. In our small way we can change a very bad situation and leave a footprint of hope in what may have been a hopeless situation. I thank God for this.
In these rural locations we traveled most households depend on agriculture and their food security is always at risk from season to season. Food costs have risen 116% because of draught making it difficult for the Lunch Program to continue at the same costs. Sugar has been eliminated to the daily porridge for the students to help stretch a limited budget.
I came face to face with the stark reality of poverty. Life remains what the people have always known with no electricity to light their dark nights, the long hot days where they work in the steaming heat if they are lucky enough to have work, walking long distances for water, to gather firewood, to buy their household goods, to health facilities and children walking long distances to and from school. Lack of clean and safe water continues to be a problem.
The Uganda mission involves long difficult days in a less than perfect environment. It cannot be romanticized. I observed how these dear Carmelite men and women in the spirit of humility, detachment and love work so hard with the people and not just for them. I watched Fr. David take time to quietly listen to a young mans housing dilemma, Fr. Paul wipe the nose of a small child and lift her up so she might see what all that music was about and then take the long drive to Jinja to work with issues at the House of Studies. I saw Sr. Antonia interact with so many students and know each of their names. I saw the trust and love in the eyes of the children as they looked to her with confidence knowing she surely would have an answer for them. I saw the many miles Fr. Edmond drove in a four wheel drive vehicle because of lack of roads to make available the sacraments to the people of all the out stations and carry out his administrative duties. All the work the Lord does on earth he does through someone. He is always looking for a man or woman who will answer as Isaiah did. Whom shall I send and who will go for us? Here I am, send me. Isaiah 6:8 But they that hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar as with eagles wings; they will run and not grow weary; walk and not grow faint. Isaiah 40: 31.
In my American way I wanted to immediately jump to a resolution for these problems I saw but quickly learned how foolish that is. I cannot seek to reform a system of which I have no understanding. I did not understand the educational system where ideas were memorized and repeated instead of using and developing critical thinking skills. I was exposed to a complex political system with a king and a president all impacting the way business is conducted, and education and medical care delivered. The dilemma remained, what can I do to help? On our last night in Uganda we pilgrims posed the question to Sr. Antonia of what priority she would put to the many needs we saw. Her response left us silent but pensive. What is needed most is prayer for vocations for priests and nuns so that the people of Uganda may continue on with their mission. What if everyone who reads this prays for vocations and the success of the mission? That is a very powerful thing. Yes, I will continue to support the mission by monetary means which are greatly needed but now I know the priority of these donations should be left to those who are engaged with the work of the people, those who live and breathe the everyday needs of the people and understand their culture.
I wonder if my impressions of this pilgrimage would be the same if I had stayed in a four star hotel, traveled in a posh air-conditioned bus, ate only at upscale restaurants and saw presentations about the mission in a comfortable conference room. By staying in small Spartan rooms often without electricity, hot water or other comforts, it allowed me to be open to see the presence of God in these wonderful Ugandan people. Back in America I took stock of how life was for me. Thanksgiving Day took on new meaning. How grateful I am to have had the good fortune to be born into an American family. How grateful I am to have a loving husband and family. How grateful I am to turn on the tap any time I want and have clean fresh water. How grateful I am to know the living God.