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MUHS Student Finds Faith Amid Suffering in Uganda

By Michael Szatkowski
Special to MyFaith

UgandaSomeone once told me, "God allows suffering to occur so a greater good can come from it." Now, more than ever, I know it to be true.

Goodbye Milwaukee — Now Uganda

On July 24 I said goodbye to my family and friends, and departed on a two-week mission trip to Entebbe, Uganda, boarding a plane with six of my fellow classmates from Marquette University High School. During the 18-hour flight, I began to go over everything I did to reach this point. The first time I heard about the mission trip through an MUHS e-mail; how excited I was to have a chance to go to Uganda and experience a culture completely different from my own; getting my parents to let me go and convincing my concerned mom that it would be safe; the four shots and the prescription I received for yellow fever, malaria, Hepatitis A and B, and meningococcal. And now I was on a plane, leaving my family for the longest period of time I had in my life, going to Africa.

The idea for this first-ever MUHS trip to Africa originated with Rob and Karen Doucette, a former MUHS theology teacher and family nurse practitioner respectively. One of the key reasons for going was to strengthen the relations the Jesuits had here in Wisconsin with the Jesuits in East Africa. MUHS introduced a new Watumishi homeroom last year to help the people of Africa and raise awareness of social justice issues. Meaning "people of service" in Swahili, Watumishi was started by Marquette University students after a mission trip led by the Doucettes to Kenya. The Doucettes also founded Be the Change, a nonprofit organization with ties to East Africa. Rob serves as executive director and Karen as the director of health programs. Having lived in Uganda for a number of years, they are familiar with East Africa.

"Personal and professional ideas you adopt along the way of your life," explained Rob on how he got the idea for these organizations. "It’s a marriage of theology with the skill set of community organizer. The best of both worlds. And it’s a dream long time coming."

My Goal: To Help

The main reason I wanted to go on this trip was something that we hear in church all the time – everyone in the world is our brother and sister. I was thrilled to have the chance to go on my first mission trip, to help people born into suffering and injustice who have not had the same opportunities I have had in my life. What better place to help than Africa?

"I wanted to see what Africa was really like, despite all the negative images the media shows us," said Joseph Martinez, a MUHS junior.

In Country

Landing in Entebbe, we were warmly greeted by two native Ugandans, William and Peter, who knew the Doucettes when they lived in Uganda. Packing into the van with our luggage on the roof, it was nighttime as we drove to our rooms at the St. Augustine Retreat Center in Kampala, across the street from a Jesuit house. Worry began to set in about everything negative I had heard over the years about Africa. Things like diseases, bugs, rebel armies running through the streets, an unstable government, and a completely third world nation. But all of these fears would be silenced.

Walking down the street from where we were staying, I experienced unbelievable poverty, unpaved roads and garbage-filled streets. A garbage dump sat next to a widely-used soccer field where I played a number of times with kids. Most of the neighborhood kids played soccer without jerseys and cleats, having only old dirty clothes and bare feet. In a slum in Kampala, the streets were filthy and the shacks people were living in were small and dirty. The majority of people living in slums like the ones we visited are living with HIV/AIDS.

"Chances are slim that most African children make it that far," Rob Doucette said. "Many barriers stop them. There are very few choices for most people. We expect to follow dreams, but here [Uganda], it is hard."
Near the end of our trip we visited a hospital. I was shocked to learn that no one has insurance. The hospitals provide medical care for patients and nothing else. Family members must bring and prepare food, and feed their sick relative along with other tasks, like doing laundry. Family members also must live in the hospital in a space that is nothing more than part of the hospital corridor.

"It was an eye opener. Many people don’t have opportunities they deserve to go far in life," Paul Quick, a MUHS senior observed.

Despite these conditions, I also experienced the other side of the meaning of suffering – the greater good that comes from it.

Reflections

During my time in Uganda, the people I saw and with whom I interacted were some of the friendliest and most courteous people, especially William and Perry. They set aside their daily lives, took time away from work and their families to make us feel like we were part of their families. Despite the poverty, there is a strong sense of community and friendship, a testament to their strong faith in God and their love for Christ. I was blown away when I saw Catholic churches, some with more than six Masses on Sunday, every hour on the hour, overflowing with parishioners onto the streets.

We also met with different groups of mostly native Ugandan people who are trying to make a positive impact on their country and people’s lives, including the John Paul II Justice and Peace Center and Youth Alive. Being a young adult, this organization’s message was especially inspiring to me. They have kids evaluate their own lives and then help them to make good decisions and teach them life skills. One of their main objectives is to create awareness about HIV/AIDS to help stop its spread to young people.

We did not do any hands on volunteer work, but instead learned that Ugandans can and are helping themselves. Our job is to try and help groups out from back home in Wisconsin, to educate others on what we have learned and seen, and raise money to help those we met in Uganda.

A Homecoming with a Message

Back home, reflecting on my experiences in Uganda, I have hope that Africa, especially Uganda, is moving in the right direction, with continued help from our community. I hope others who have only heard negative things about Africa can see that the people of Uganda really are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Even in suffering and hardships, there are good things that can come from it, thanks to our shared faith in God.
Our guide, Peter, gives this advice to people in Wisconsin and America.

"We have much to teach America, as much as they have to teach us," Peter said. "Uganda needs more ties with America in order to close the social and economical gaps between us."

With more MUHS mission trips to Uganda planned for the future, I hope we can help Peter’s vision become a reality.

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