Thursday, October 22, 2009

Meghan Gilbert Update - III

From: Meghan Gilbert
Sent: Monday, October 05, 2009 5:23 AM
Subject: Africa Update Numero Tres

Hi everyone,
The last few weeks have been quite eventful! The rainy season is in full force here which means malaria is rampant. Almost everyday mothers and fathers bring their children to the parish looking for help and anointing. It's tough seeing the little ones suffering so much and being with them during their final hours. Just two days ago, while Fr. Francis was away, I helped a young couple take their baby boy to the clinic. His malaria was severe and we got the news that he passed away last night. I was holding his hand less than 24 hours prior which makes all these experiences so much more personal. There's not much to do except commend their souls to God--I am consoled by the fact that there are many more little saints in heaven. Something that adds to the severity of sickness is the traditional remedies people use. A common one is to make surface cuts on the chest, back, or stomach in an attempt to ease the troubled breathing. I've seen some of these cuts, many aren't big but they're deep. It's really disturbing. Also, I just learned the other day that when babies are teething, since fevers and diarrhea are common during this time, many parents try to get rid of the symptoms by cutting into the gums and extracting the teeth they believe are causing the problems.. The people are in dire need of education which they're slowly getting. Please continue to pray for the people here, especially during this difficult season.

A few weeks ago, I got the chance to see monkeys in the wild! It was really fun to watch them doing the things you'd expect them to do like playing and picking things off each others backs. I took lots of pictures and even some video. I think the best part of that day, however, might have been that I got to eat a cheeseburger on the way back from the forest. Yes, a cheeseburger! After two months of plantains and rice, I don't think I've ever enjoyed a cheeseburger as much as I did that night!

Some of you may have seen or heard about the riots in Kampala a few weeks back. They were due to tribal conflicts between the Buganda tribe and the central government. Luckily, as I am in the southwest of the country, I was far removed from the violence. Though it was a little nerve-wracking seeing the news and hoping it didn't spread. Everything seems to be under control for now, but that definitely showed the underlying tribal tensions that exist all over the country, how volatile the situation really is, and how quickly some of these tribal conflicts can turn violent. In addition to the riots, I've been getting e-mails from the U.S. State Department warning me of Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabaab militants lurking in East Africa. There's been some recent military activity in Somalia, with a few retaliatory attacks on U.S. and other western interests. Yikes! But so far, so good. Sometimes I do wish I was a little less conspicuous though...

Yesterday I had the chance to visit with the girls at Ave Maria Secondary School near the village. They were so much fun to spend time with and they asked me all sorts of great questions about America and what I thought of Africa so far. They showed me a lot of their traditional dances, and dang, the way they shake and move is unlike anything I've ever seen before. I even joined in during one of the dances. I must say, I was pretty good! The girls were impressed!

Today I'm off to Kampala for a few days to renew my visa. I must say, I'm looking forward to a change of scenery for a little while. Well, I can't believe I'm already almost halfway done. The time is flying! Again, thanks for all your prayers and know that y'all are in mine.


P.S. GO TIGERS!!! This is so intense!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Meghan Gilbert Update - II

From: Meghan Gilbert
Sent: Monday, September 07, 2009 5:28 AM
Subject: Africa Update Numero Dos

Hello everyone!

I hope you've all had an enjoyable Labor Day weekend (I ate an ice cream last night to celebrate the ending of summer). I wanted to let you know what I've been doing the past couple of weeks and also tell you that I've changed my plans a bit.

Instead of going back to the sisters in Fort Portal as originally planned, I've decided to stay here in the village of Butunduuzi for the remainder of my time here. After much thinking and praying, I felt that going back to teach was not what I'm supposed to do. I really fell in love with the village and the people here, and I didn't want to abandon them just as I felt I was really getting to know their problems and beginning to form some solutions. Last night, I went to Fort Portal to speak to the headmistress of the school and no worries! She was very understanding and told me it was no problem for them--the girls will still have their regular teacher for the term. Also, I was concerned that I might be taking away the opportunity for these girls to have exposure to an American teacher, but I learned that the school has a sister-school agreement with a high school in Weston, MA and teachers from Weston come every summer to teach the girls in their second term. Good deal. Then I went to speak to the Sisters of Mary Immaculate with whom I stayed previously and was due to stay with while I taught. I thanked them profusely for their generosity and they were very gracious--Sr. Elizabeth even pulled me aside and gave me a big hug and said, "I'm so happy you're going back to the village! I knew you weren't going to be as happy at the school so I was praying you'd make this decision!" So that was more than I could hope for and confirmed my decision. Praise God!

So I'm really settling into Butunduuzi. The people who live in the parish compound are becoming like second family--they have even given me one of their local empaakos or pet names: Abwooli which apparently means "little girl" and "cat". Hmmm...I guess that's about right. In the traditional Batoro tribe greetings, everyone calls each other by these names so when I'm introduced to someone they find out my pet name and I find out theirs and then a little ritual ensues where we greet each other formally with those names. It's actually quite involved but it's very endearing. I'm even beginning to pick up some Rotooro, the local language. I've had the chance to visit many of the local homes with Fr. Francis as we walk through different parts of the village. Most of the people live in mudhuts with grass roofs and they're about the size of a typical bedroom--very tiny! I've really been touched by the people's generosity--they usually give me some type of gift, usually eggs or fruit and occasionally a little bit of money. Some of these homes are super remote and I've had to walk through the tropical forest in the mud to get there. Quite an adventure!

In addition to visiting homes, we've also continued to travel to many parish outstations where we have Mass and plant trees. We plant them for economic reasons (the people can later sell them for lumber) and also environmental reasons. Deforestation in order to cultivate crops is a big problem here so the trees need to be replaced. The deforestation is already affecting the amount of rainfall.

I've seen some difficult things here--small children in their final hours dying from malaria, people with open festering wounds that are not being properly looked after, sick people who are unable to cultivate crops and therefore are malnourished, but with lots of time for reflection and prayer, I feel a lot of hope that little by little I can make a small difference in the lives of the people here. Yesterday, I spoke to them after Mass about the possibility of using the natural resources around them to increase the size of their homes, and I also spoke to them about the dangers of keeping chickens inside their huts and encouraged them to build proper outdoor structures for them. Next weekend I'll be talking to them about what they can do to clean and care for their open wounds and we're actually going to invite all the people who have these wounds to come to the church where we'll have a properly trained nurse there to show them what they can do to prevent infection. It's these seemingly simple things that really make a difference in improving the quality of life. Of course, amidst all the practical things there is always the Gospel. Christ is truly at work in His people and worshiping here in this tiny village, it struck me that He really is present to His people even in the remotest of places!

I continue to pray for everyone back home. Thanks for all your prayers and support and please pray for the people here, especially the small children and expectant mothers who are the most susceptible to diseases. Oh and one more thing--GO BLUE!


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Video Presentation From Fr. Francis Muhenda One Year Later

We are blessed and honored to have Bishop Robert visit us this week from his diocese in Fort Portal, Uganda. Last summer; we had the good fortune to get to know Fr. Francis Muhenda, from this same diocese when he spent three months at St. Thomas Parish. Over the course of his stay, he made many friends and he shared insights into the stark contrast between our lives and those of his parishioners near Fort Portal, Uganda. The generosity of people from St Thomas the Apostle sent him home last August with money to buy a used truck to visit his 33 villages, a water catchment cistern system and a solar panel to provide the rectory with electricity to power a light.

Before leaving us, he talked of his hope to address the poverty by encouraging his parishioners to engage in tree planting and building of chicken coops. Our modest Uganda Empowerment Project grew out of this idea, and in the past year St. Thomas donors have sent almost $3000 to fund these activities. Thousands of tree seedlings have been planted and additional thousands are growing in nursery beds for future planting. Coops have been built and the chickens are laying eggs.

Former St Thomas church secretary Meghan Gilbert is now in Fort Portal spending five months in ministry with the people in Uganda. She has already helped plant 100 pine saplings. Last weeks bulletin included a moving description from her about her time spent with Fr. Francis. Come join us at the parish hall Sunday September 13 at 2:00pm to see a video presentation Fr. Francis sent us about the work being done, village life and the needs which must still be addressed. Hope you can come!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Meghan Gilbert Update

From: Meghan Gilbert
Sent: Monday, August 17, 2009 2:06 AM
Subject: Africa Update Numero Uno

Greetings everyone!

I've been in Uganda for two weeks now so I thought it a good time to say hello to everybody and let you know what I've been up to so far.

I arrived in Kampala the evening of August 4th and stayed two nights at a formation institute for the Diocese of Kampala. Then I went to stay with Fr. Francis Muhenda at his parish in the rural (VERY rural) village of Butunduuzi for a few days. I have a nice visitor's apartment there with solar power and running water--the only place in the village with those luxuries. Most of the people in the village have never seen a white person before so that's been really interesting and at times very comical. I feel like a celebrity the way people come running to the street when I'm walking or driving by! And I've almost gotten used to the shouts of "Mzungu! Mzungu!" they yell at me. "Mzungu" means white person--it's like I landed from Mars and they can't believe I'm real.

I had the opportunity to visit the Butunduuzi Primary School and speak to the children there which was quite an experience. They all wanted to touch my skin to make sure it felt like theirs! What beautiful children, though, and the smiles on their faces were so great to see. I've also traveled around with Fr. Francis to the outstations of his parish, going through the jungle was so intense I felt like Rambo! The people of these outstations are so generous and their joy is contagious. I'm honored to be able to visit and worship with them. They only have Mass and the sacraments about every 3 months so one Mass had 11 baptisms and 1 wedding. Fr. Francis said that was a "short day" so I can't wait to see a long day.

Now I'm in the town of Fort Portal staying with the Sisters of Mary Immaculate at their convent. They're so nice and funny and joyful. They've taken to calling me Maggie (Meghan is difficult) and making fun of my irrational fear of their crazy hens. "She fears the hens! She fears the hens haha!". Yes indeed, of all the things to be afraid of in Africa, I fear the hens. Sr. Elizabeth has assumed the role of my mother--"I am your mom, you are my daughter" she says to me all the time.

I will head back with Fr. Francis to his parish on the 21st for almost 3 weeks before coming back to Fort Portal to begin teaching Religious Education to the girls of St. Maria Goretti Secondary School. Thank you all for your prayers--know that I'm praying for you as well (and I have LOTS of time for prayer!). And please pray for the people of Butunduuzi village and the girls I'll be teaching at the school.

God Bless,

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Updates: January/February 2009

February 9, 2009
Thanks for so much work of getting our empowerment project going. As I write I collect ten eggs per day at the parish. That is great. I have started on the second  coop already preparing the pine saplings for planting in April at the height of the rains. I will have more than 25,000 saplings to distribute to all the village churches. We zeroed on 100 seedlings for a village church and ten for every catholic family. That will be the minimum. Those who can have more, they will be free. It is great work going on.

Let me share with you what happened last Sunday. I said four masses ending with a funeral mass and later anointing a sick person in the village. Yesterday I said two masses. While celebrating mass in a village church there comes a girl of twelve years with almost crippled legs in great pain. I immediately carried her to the nearest health unit for treatment. It is hard to keep seeing people so incapacitated, where I can help, I do with love. By the time I reached at the parish I was dead tired. It is great to get tired for the Lord.

My parish will be officially inaugurated on Feb. 15th. Am now very busy preparing for that day. Greet all our friends and thank them for so much good work going on. The two water cisterns are completed and I am so excited that all the projects I shared with the people are  getting done.

January 26, 2009

Last week on Monday I visited a village church and  just before mass, they brought me a young lady who was epileptic. The best I could do was to touch her, anoint her and pray. I was  30 kms away from any health facility. The people believe that this kind of disease is caused by an evil spirit. Luckily, she recovered and we went on with mass.

Then, yesterday, I said three masses and in the last mass I baptized 15 children and officiated a marriage of three couples in one mass. I was dead tired after that. Then, at 3 am my cellphone rung, it was one of my catechists who had called from a village phone his wife was in labor. I told him to wait for dawn it is not prudent to travel at night. Thank God nothing worse happened. Today I write I am in Fortportal. I brought the woman to hospital and she is in the delivery room. Writing this message gives me a bit of rest. Am having a lot of work at the parish working on the second water cistern and transferring the tree saplings from the nursery bed to the polythene bags for better growth . They should be ready for planting in mid March. I must supervise all this work.

Am glad I can do all this for Christ. Kindly thank all our friends for their generous donations to enable this work to go on. May the Lord bless you in all you are doing.

January 13, 2009
Last week I was involved in another life saving mission in my parish. Actually two missions. A middle aged man had severe malaria far way in the village. One was an elderly lady whom I had to drive to Fortportal 70 miles away to hospital. Both of them had severe malaria. The gentleman had a swollen spleen. Both of them are now back to health. It is wonderful to see. It is a perfect combination of faith and acts as taught to us by St. James. In both cases I paid what ever I could afford to pay because by themselves it was next to impossible to do a thing. Thank all the friends who are supporting our work here.

January 03, 2009
Thank you for so much you were able to do since we met. I think we have achieved a lot. I can understand that the economic hardships are making people more cautious about their spending and donating. I wish to appreciate every bit everyone has contributed towards the cause of my parish.

Now am resting a bit and organize myself and plan for the official opening of the parish on 15th Feb. It is 30 kms from the two mother parishes. The people cannot wait to have their own parish. Am getting the women’s group organized  and they are eager to  do something  in order to uplift themselves and their families. I have the nursery bed for pine trees of about 25,000 seedlings. Next week I will prepare another seed bed with the same number of  seedlings. These will be ready for this seasons planting in March. Each of the 25 village churches must plant one hectre which makes 1200 seedlings. Some (seedlings) will not make it in the first season but many will make in the second season of September.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Progress Reports: through the end of 2008

December 31, 2008: Dear Friends, I wish to thank you  beyond measure for all  you have done for me  to give life to God's people in my parish. Thank you so much. I wish you a happy new year  2009 filled with so many pf God's choicest blessings for you and your families. I remember you with joy and above all I pray for you. The fist chicken coop is ready with already  15 chicken and collecting eggs on a daily basis.we are slowly getting offshore on our chicken coop project.The pictures of a completed coop with the chicken is on the way.I will soon embark on the second one  at the home of one of the parishioners. It is aproject meant to help the poor get over their  poverty at some point in time. It will work and it is promising.Thanks to all who  do contribute towards this noble  project. Small projects can do miracles once they are well done.

On 28th Dec., I baptized 150 children at the same time.The pictures from that day are on the way.Interesting enough is the fact that I had prepared  so many seedlings for planting. Each child who was baptized took home a seedling or two for planting I saw them proudly walk around the parish  with their seelings as great souvenirs of their baptism. You may not imagine that  so many children are prepared to be baptized on this day. On a sad note every time I  visit a church , there has to be a dying child  to be baptized and anointed. What I do is that  I baptize and anoint the child and then do all I can to find medication for the child.Many times the mother or even the parents have no money for medication, and they bring the child for baptism as if looking for a miracle to save the child. Am so glad  to share with you  that all those children I found medication with whatever funds I have, have recovered. It is a great joy to see their parents bring them back to me healthy afterwards to thank me. Those are little moments in Jesus's  labor that give me joy and keep me going. The children go with the mothers. I have had to save the lives of  several mothers by bringing them out of the village to better medical facilities. Thanks to the new truck. That is how I end the old year 2008 filled with a lot of happy memories of all of you my Friends at St. Thomas.

I have lit  a candle in my heart  for you all. It will burn aleways.The parish house is renovated, solar power installed and the cisterns are yet to be done this January, then a new kitchen. The parish will officially be opened on 15 February 2009 I will  have a CD made from that day and send it  to you.

            December 17, 2008:  “Today I baptized 37 kids in a small tiny church.  On 28th Dec I expect to baptize over one hundred. The first chicken coop is done now I already have 10 chicken and am expecting to have 100 chicken by end of January. Am starting to work on the second one soon.  I will send you the pictures of the finished coop then later I will send you the one with chicken in their home.

My tree planting project is also in high gear.  I have prepared ornamental seedlings(1000) and over 25,000 pine seedlings to plant the next season. I will send you pictures.  Thinking of you and praying for you with joy. Your friend, Fr. Francis. 

            November 17, 2008:  “I am sending you several pictures showing part of my pastoral work.  I am about to complete the first chicken coop... I will send you pictures showing a step ahead as far as our project of empowering our people is concerned...Greet all those who meet with you to discuss ways to carry forward the work of Jesus Christ.  Your friend, Fr. Francis.”
            October 16, 2008:  “...this week I started on the first chicken coop.  it should be finished in 2 or 3 weeks time and I will send you the pictures. We are making progress.  The priest’s house renovations are in full progress. When it is over by Advent I will have done the water tank and installed solar power and I will be in the house...It is raining so much that when I send you the pictures, you will wonder how we manage.  The roads are season or out of season, Christ must be preached. Am just happy to share in Christ’s suffering for the salvation of his people.  Greet the members when you see them...”

            September 18, 2008: “ week I will send you [description of] the type of chicken coops we can construct in my parish.  They are very scientific and efficient.  The need for chickens and eggs is so high that we would certainly be
successful in our project, once we start off.  I will have the first one made at the parish as a demonstration and will identify homes where we will set up the others.  Kindly thank all the members [of St. Thomas] for me for so much love and care and sacrifice. We will succeed to help the people we are focused on.  Your friend Fr. Francis.”

            September 11, 2008:  “I have been struggling to get my Mom and my younger brother William treated.  As you know, we have no insurance, each family finds a way to deal with its own health problems. I have been struggling to get my new place in order too.  It’s exciting to be a pioneer for Jesus”.

            September 9, 2008:  I am now writing from Kampala to process my truck ... greet all those who gather to discuss how to help us.  Tell them that I appreciate every bit of what they are doing.  I love them and pray for them...”

            September 5, 2008 "...Next week...I will be cruising through the mud reaching God's people. Already I have had to attend to so many sick people in these three weeks I have been here. They brought me one child with a burnt face and we have to find a doctor who can do skin grafting. Many malaria cases. People come and have no money to reach the better medical facilities. In all this I am doing my best to help." 

            September 2, 2008:  “Am already in my new parish and the work is really overwhelming but we will do it. Here the contrasts are too stark between the poor and the rich.  I will send you lots of pictures of what our villages here are like and what we are working on to help them move a step higher is commendable. It is a matter of time you will begin to see results.  My mom has been ill with high blood pressure. At one time it was 180/100.  So I have been trying to get her treated.  My younger brother is very ill with diabetes. He may not live long...”

About The Empowerment Project

On Sunday August 10, 2008, Fr. Francis Muhenda showed a modest group gathered in the parish hall of St. Thomas the Apostle in Ann Arbor, MI a power point slide presentation of his home district in Western Uganda, St. Peter the Apostle Parish - Butunduuzi, Fort Portal Diocese. He is the only priest serving over 30 villages where electricity, running water and paved roads are non-existent. Generous members of St. Thomas the Apostle sent him back to Uganda with resources to secure, for the first time a sturdy four wheel vehicle, a cistern to collect water for his school and house and a solar panel to provide electric light after sundown.

Fr. Francis spoke of the unaddressed poverty of his people which preclude them from paying school fees, the nutritional shortcomings of their diet, the polluted water they must endure and the mosquito borne malaria problem which primarily kills infants.

Some asked him “what can we do to help you?” He suggested that we could help empower them to lift themselves up by funding a couple of simple projects. One would be to fund the purchase of fast growing saplings which his parishioner’s could plant and nurture for future sale as timber. At 6-8 ft. growth per year, the time for harvest is relatively short.

His second suggestion was that we could help sponsor a chicken project. Meat and poultry are hard to come by and a luxury rarely experienced by people in his Parish. If we could assist with money to buy building materials for chicken coops (chicken wire and wood) and hens and roosters, his villages could cooperate to develop a source of eggs, poultry meat and, conceivably build a source of income. With seed money a donor sent with him to develop a pilot plan, Fr. Francis has already overseen construction of the first chicken coop. Two more are soon to be completed.

Inspired by Fr. Francis’ slide show in August , several of us met in September and October to plan a project to provide continuing aid to his parish. In the long run there is endless work we could do. We think that the sapling and chicken projects merit our immediate support in the short term because of their simplicity. These two plans do more than just give charity to Ugandans. They provide a concrete way for them to improve their own lives and hopefully advance upward from their profound poverty.

On November 3, 2008 we formed a Michigan Non Profit Organization to assist Fr. Francis Muhenda’s parish, called Uganda Empowerment Project Inc. We hope to make periodic and sustained fundraising efforts to encourage Fr. Francis to promote these projects. The ad-hoc committee behind the non profit Uganda Empowerment Project, Inc. is made up of Thomas Owens, Mike Rhode, Elizabeth Crist, Doug Mullkoff, Marie Williams and Grace Potts.

We have opened an account for the non profit with Key Bank in Ann Arbor. If you are moved to support Fr. Francis with this project please send a check made out to Uganda Empowerment Project, Inc. c/o Doug Mullkoff, 402 West Liberty, Ann Arbor, MI 48103.