Reflection on recent trip to Northern, Uganda by Director of "Give It Up For Gulu", Mary Gispert
This past month I journeyed to Uganda to visit with the people I've come to love. It's not easy leaving a life of comfort and the family/friends you care about, but it's easier knowing the reason for going in the first place, acting on God's calling to show love.
Five years ago, Fr. James came into our lives at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Wilmington, DE. His visit impressed upon me such compassion for the people in Northern Uganda whose lives were pulled apart from the over 20 year long war with Joseph Kony and the LRA. Since our meeting in 2012, I haven't been the same. I truly feel that God wanted me to get to know and love the people in Uganda and gave me the courage and strength to do what I could to help them.
Since Fr. James' visit, developing a nursery school in the village of Olwiyo became the main focus of this mission. Being raised in this area, Fr. James knew the need for proper early childhood education. He knew the impact a school would make in helping to change the mind set of the children whose parents didn't rely on education for their survival. St. Catherine of Siena Nursery School was born and is completing it's fourth school year.
Other projects also developed namely, St. Catherine of Siena Child Sponsorship Program, gifting the most desperate children the chance to learn; St. Catherine of Siena Piggery Empowerment Project, which hopes to bring self reliance to this area; and the Ruganga Lakica Bead Makers have been given an opportunity to uplift themselves by creating paper beaded jewelry known as Gulu Beads and offering them for sale in the United States.
My visit allowed me to spend time at the school, observe the teaching, enjoy the children's singing/laughter and plan for the future development. The piggery, which is adjacent to the school, housed several piglets and their mother. It was good to learn that the elderly, disabled, and widows of the community received a pair of pigs to help with their financial needs. The bead makers group has grown to 12 members and feels especially blessed for this opportunity. I noticed a confidence in them that I didn't notice before. Living in the villages, gave me a greater understanding of the communities, their culture, faith and struggles in daily life.
Nothing can compare to living in the USA, the land of plenty! Most Ugandan people live without... without proper roads, electricity, running water, kitchens, beds, medical care, school fees, means of travel, food, etc.
Their daily life is a struggle, but you wouldn't know it. Beginning at sunrise, with multitudes of roosters crowing, the women set off to work in their gardens while the children start their journey walking to school. What seems so hard to us, is just their daily routine. Their garden is the means of providing for their families. They spend the morning either digging or planting, the afternoon for weeding, gathering firewood and water. They work alone or with other women in the family or as a community, where a group will take turns working each others gardens. Once they return home, they begin preparing dinner for their family. The men's role in the family is to tend to the animals, plow the gardens and handle the small business operations of the family. They have much more free time to socialize then the women do, wouldn't go over very well here in the US. The women, however, love to work hard and care for their families. Of course, our lives are very different, but similar at the same time. The center of both our lives is providing and caring for our families and praising God for what He allows us to have. It's only the way we go about our daily lives that are different.
One of the highlights of my visit was celebrating Mass with the community on Sundays in an old classroom block where many gathered to praise God. Their praises being sung in their local language and with local instruments were very moving, I may not have understood their language but was moved by their reverence and spirit. Celebrating Mass in a village with no Church building, was very humbling. It made the Mass much more powerful to me, and reminded me that we are one big family in the Universal Church.
The Celebration of The Two Martyrs of Paimol was another moving experience. This celebration of the lives of two young martyrs has been celebrated for years and has grown bigger and bigger each year. The people not only in the North of Uganda, but from all over the country and other countries as well, travel great distances to attend Mass at the Shrine in WiPolo. I witnessed people pilgrimaging to Paimol for a week by foot. They were so faith filled and happy to take this long journey. One 60 year old lady from Kampala met with us on her way to the Shrine, she was the first ever to walk from the Capitol City which took her three weeks. Other Christians, packed into open bed trucks, over packed cars, buses, by bicycle, and motorcycle to attend this celebration. Their comfort was not of importance to them, their singing praises with such joy will never leave me. I was one of over 10,000 attending Mass led by the Italian Bishop, Joseph Franzelli, of Lira Diocese, and felt so blessed for this opportunity. I felt the presence of the two young boys who gave their lives 100 years ago, on the very grounds, proclaiming the good news of Christ.
Lastly, this trip allowed me to love people who I did not know. We shared and laughed about our differences and learned from each other. I am so thankful to my family for making sacrifices so that I could follow what God has asked of me.