October 20 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Going the extra mile: the Scottish charity helping the children of Uganda

GERARD GOUGH meets the young Africans praying for Scotland and looks at Missio Scotland’s life-giving work with orphaned babies and schools for the deaf. -BY GERARD GOUGH

Jesus knew what thoughts were going through their minds, and He took a little child whom He set by His side and then He said to them: “Anyone who welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me. The least among you all is the one who is the greatest.” (Luke 9:47-48).

Nowadays, it can often seem like we are being bombarded with news stories—mainly from secular sources—that suggest that not only is the Catholic Faith in decline, but that it has few redeeming positive qualities whatsoever either. Of course, many of us who practise our Faith are aware that both suggestions couldn’t be further from the truth.

When I first arrived at Missio Scotland, I made it my own personal mission, if you will, to find out just how much work the Church undertakes worldwide and the results of that not only warmed my heart, but also strengthened my Faith and they are something I keep coming back to.

Some of you might be aware of these figures, but they are worth repeating. Throughout the world, the Catholic Church runs: 73,263 nursery schools with 6,963,669 pupils; 96,822 primary schools with 32,254,204 pupils; 45,699 secondary schools with 19,407,417 pupils. The Church also cares for 2,309,797 high school pupils, and 2,727,940 university students.

Catholic charity and healthcare centres run around the world by the Church include: 5034 hospitals; 16,627 dispensaries; 611 care homes for people with leprosy; 15,518 homes for the elderly, the chronically ill or people with a disability; 9770 orphanages; 12,082 creches; 14,391 marriage counselling centres; 3896 social rehabilitation centres; and 38,256 other institutions.

While each of these figures are equally impressive, given that a major part of my work as communications officer for Missio Scotland involves visiting primary schools and emphasising our ‘Children Helping Children’ motto to the pupils, I found the numbers relating to education and childcare to be particularly salient.

However, it’s one thing to see this dedication to education and childcare written down on paper, but quite another to see it at first hand. Fortunately, a recent mission trip to Uganda afforded me the opportunity to do just that. Our first stop, in that regard, saw the Missio Scotland team visit the Mulago School for the Deaf, situated in one of Kampala’s sprawling suburbs.

The Mulago School for the Deaf was founded in 1988 by Fr Harry Tullemans of the Holy Ghost Fathers (also known as the Spiritans), a mere five years after the congregation had arrived. Having learned that there was a family with a deaf child nearby, he made it his mission to learn sign language and communicate with that child who—like many children with disabilities in African countries—was previously viewed as little more than an unwelcome burden on the family.

From that small seed of Faith planted by Fr Tullemans, something far greater grew: the school as we know it today, which was built thanks, in part, to assistance from Missio Scotland and is now responsible for educating almost 200 pupils of all ages.

But that doesn’t even tell the full story of the school, because the majority of these pupils receive board there too, often, sadly, because their families have abandoned them and left them at the school gates. While the children being seen as a burden may play a part in this decision, finance will undoubtedly be a factor too as it costs $300 to educate one child for a year—money that many families simply do not have, even if they understand the value of an education.

So the Spiritans and their staff at the school—many of whom are deaf ­themselves—are not only charged with educating the children, but also housing and feeding them. It’s a sizeable challenge, but as Fr Nicholas Kerebba, who works in the parish explained, it is one that he and all at the Mulago School for the Deaf are keen to meet.

“These children are created in the image of God,” Fr Nicholas said. “So we need to make sure that we give them a kind of holistic formation in their lives. We really want to care for as many children as possible and give them their human dignity back.

“That gives me a feeling of great joy, knowing that these children now have people in their lives to give it meaning. Missio Scotland’s visit goes a long way in making sure that we add value to their lives too, by having that collaborative ministry. Because as we know, the Church is one family and as humanity we belong to one family.”

That dedication to human dignity doesn’t just end with educating, housing and feeding the children, it also extends to bringing people into their school community and supporting the pupils after they’ve left the school. As previously mentioned, some of the teachers at the school are themselves deaf, which gives a real boost to the aurally impaired community in Kampala.

Moreover, those who have passed through the school have been helped to find gainful employment, and one story, in particular, was recounted to us about former pupils who had set up their own business making yoghurt, which they currently supply to the school today.

So in effect, by donating to Missio Scotland you are supporting the training of the Fathers who run the school, you are helping to provide the buildings to allow these children to be educated, you are financing their education, their food and their accommodation and you are even helping to provide a life for them when they leave school too.

For me, it brought home just how unique and holistic a charity Missio Scotland is, feeding the mind, the body and the soul; something Fr Nicholas was conscious of too as he thanked us for our visit.

“We are really grateful to have connected with Scottish people,” Fr Nicholas said. “I’d like to thank you for the good work that you are doing—especially through the Church—which helps us to evangelise and care for these children. It helps us go the extra mile.”

This was far from the only example of the holistic nature of Missio Scotland in Uganda however, because situated in the outskirts of the country’s capital city is the Nsambya Babies Home, which is run by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Reparatrix—whom we met with at the start of our trip.

It was entrusted to their care by the Archdiocese of Kampala in 1989, has a capacity of 30 and receives mainly babies who have been abandoned, neglected or orphaned.

They are brought to the home by the police, probation officers, local authorities, hospital personnel or community leaders who have been unable to trace any living adult relative who could take responsibility for the child.

Admitted babies receive food, clothing, shelter, medical care and basic education. The duration of stay at the babies home is variable, depending on individual circumstances. In a very small number of cases, a child’s stay may be as short as a few weeks or months; the majority spend more than a year at the home with a good proportion of those spending two or more years there

“I work as the administrator,” Sr Jane Frances Nakabugo from the Nsambya Babies Home explained. “I’m like the big mother! We care for these babies from birth to six years old. After the age of six, these babies are either transferred to homes for older children, adopted or resettled with family.

“Our team consists of three Sisters, headed by our director, Sr Sarah. We have 10 direct caregivers—also known as mothers—who care for the babies and about another 15 members of staff who help out.”

Even in our short time at the babies home, we were given a heart-warming insight into just how much love the mothers at the home have for the children they care for and it was clear, too, that that love was reciprocated.

Ugandan native, Sr Stella Niwagira—a Claverian Sister, who spent time working with the congregation based in Bellshill—is the National Secretary for the Pontifical Mission Society of St Peter the Apostle (SPA) in Uganda. That society helps to provide financial support to priests and religious throughout the world. She visited the babies home with the team from Missio Scotland and spoke with pride at the difference that the Sisters are making to these children’s lives.

“These Sisters have done tremendous work,” Sr Stella said. “The babies are well looked after and the place looks so well kept. You can really see that these kids receive love and are comfortable with the Sisters. There was a woman there who couldn’t speak, yet she is one of the mothers who looks after the children in that home. She cannot speak but she gives them much love. The baby doesn’t want to go away from this lady even though she cannot communicate verbally.

“I feel that it’s received a special touch from the religious. When the religious run an institution it is different. When we form a religious, as Missio does, we are forming someone who is going to give life, like those who give life to these babies.

“The babies love them so much that they don’t miss their motherly love. It is a chain. You help to form a religious and at the end of it you are giving life to a baby as a mother in a babies home. You are touching many other people in their lives who you don’t know. And this is what we saw in the babies home, the Sisters making a big difference, giving love to these kids.

“You could feel that these kids don’t want for anything. This is all thanks to the religious Sisters.

“The novices at the formation house in Ggogonya will, in future, be the people charged with running places like the babies home in Nsambya. They—like their professed Sisters—are all beneficiaries of the Society of St Peter the Apostle, because SPA supports vocations for religious men and women.

“So when you support Missio Scotland—or Missio because we are one family—you are supporting the education of priests and religious, you are supporting the education of the children, you are supporting accommodation for children who have nowhere to stay, you are supporting their feeding, you are supporting everything and giving them a life.”

The life-giving aspect is something that the priests and religious are helping to foster not just in and around Kampala, but also throughout the rest of the vast African nation. In the Diocese of Kasese—in the west of the country near to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo—the Church is not only putting Missio Scotland’s donations to good use by building new school blocks at the likes of St Jude’s Primary in Katwe, it is also helping the children there to envisage a brighter future and understand what it means to have a missionary spirit.

“If the children in that particular area don’t receive an education, they end up working in the salt mines or fishing in the lake,” Sr Stella explained. “Their life ends there.

“We met with a group of Missionary Children—some of whom came from St Jude’s—and it was evident that they already had that spirituality of being missionaries too.

“One child said that they help other children by reminding them that they have to go to Church, while others offered to pray for the boys and girls in Scotland.

“I thought it was beautiful and that is all thanks to Missio and those who support it, because if these kids were left to go fishing or salt mining they wouldn’t have the chance to deliver this message of caring for each other, or of knowing that they are part of the Church. Missio reminds us that we are all one and you could tell that these children—even at an early age—understood that.”

I travelled to Uganda fully aware that I would learn a thing or two from my first mission trip, and I did, especially from the youngest members of our Church and the projects that support their development. We might be helping to educate them, but make no mistake, these young Ugandans have more than a few things to teach us too.


– To learn more about the work of Missio Scotland, visit: www.missio.scot, www.facebook.com/missio.scot, follow @Missio_Scotland on Twitter or contact gerard@missio.scot


– To donate to Missio Scotland, visit: www.missio.scot/donations, call : 01236 449774 or send donations to: Missio Scotland, St Andrews, 4 Laird Street, Coatbridge ML5 3LJ.

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