Father Emmanuel Byaruhanga used to ride his bicycle close to 30 miles each way to a trading center to sell bananas to pay for his school fees. Born and raised in rural western Uganda, Father Emmanuel said that children in his parents’ parish still fetch drinking water from a stream that animals drink from and defecate near.
Sometimes, he said, when children are thirsty enough, they don’t bother bringing the water back to their school or home to boil it.
Maybe you’ve heard a story like this before, or perhaps you are aware that this is reality for some children in the world. Maybe you thought about children like this when you dropped coins into your Rice Bowl from Catholic Relief Services in the last few days.
Will you think about these children again before Lent next year?
It’s always inspiring to meet people like Father Emmanuel, who have stared down all of the obstacles in their way and made something of themselves. He is now a doctoral student in Nairobi, Kenya, and he dreams of working in educational administration and planning, he said.
But I was also incredibly inspired by the people in whose living room we were sitting when I met Father Emmanuel: Jane Holler and Dan Marecki of Milford. The couple, members of St. Gabriel Parish, have helped sponsor six water projects in western Uganda through their nonprofit, Uganda Farmers, Inc. While Father Emmanuel works with Jane and Dan as their eyes on the ground in the areas where water pumps are being put in, it’s due to the passion and fundraising efforts of Jane and Dan that clean water is now freely flowing to so many people.
And while the couple have changed the lives of countless people in rural Uganda with these water projects, including the latest water pump that was installed at a medical center, they said over and over again that they are the lucky ones.
“We’ve received more blessings from the people we’ve met than what we have given them,” Dan told me, adding that they have visited the country a number of times to see the finished projects. “It would have been absolutely impossible to be involved with something like this except for the grace of God,” he said.
Being involved in this work has renewed their faith, Dan told me. My favorite phrase from our conversation was when he said, “The love of God flows through us to 8,000 miles away.”
As Lent comes to end, I want to think more about ways I can be more like Jane and Dan, and not just be satisfied with dropping a dollar in the basket on Sundays or my spare change in a Rice Bowl 40 days a year. While I may not find myself in a position to found a nonprofit at this point in my life, I can follow Jane and Dan’s example of action.
Earlier this year, I wrote about making spiritual resolutions at the beginning of a New Year to accompany my desires to be fit, eat healthier or pick up new hobbies or skills in 2017. After meeting Jane, Dan and Father Emmanuel, I know I want giving back to be a part of my spiritual resolutions this year, too. I can support the mission of Ugandan Farmers by running in their annual 5K fundraiser; I can find out what volunteer opportunities are available in my church; I can listen to God’s call for me to do more for my community.
Jane and Dan’s journey down this road to founding Uganda Farmers, Inc. began with a conversation with a visiting priest. How will God speak to me this year and call me to action? How will God call you?
ANNA JONES is a writer who lives in New Haven. She and her husband are members of the St. Thomas More Chapel and Center Community at Yale University.