Universe Column by David Alton
July 10th 2005
Many people want to do something to help Africa – but are fearful of donating money to organisations which use a large percentage to cover administrative costs and salaries, or because they fear that the money will end up in the pockets of the corrupt. Or they fear that it will be used to fuel the continent’s many conflicts.
On past performance they have a point – but what a tragedy it would be for Africa if we ended up by doing nothing as a result. Surely the answer is to look for particular projects or individuals and to support them directly or through agencies you trust.
For those who particularly want to encourage the work of the church in Africa – especially where it is combining practical initiatives with meeting spiritual needs – the best way forward is to ensure that your diocese is twinned with African dioceses and that individual parishes take on specific projects.
For example, last month two wonderful priests working in Africa – one born in Kenya and the other in Ealing – were in the Salford diocese describing the work of their community. They are working in the remote Turkana region of north west Kenya . They have bored more than 60 wells, built 43 rock catchments and dams to collect precious water. They have built schools, clinics, dispensaries and churches – and have transformed the lives of thousands of people. Water, for the missionary community of St. Paul, is symbolic of both the physical and spiritual needs of Turkana’ s people. They have been supported by their local bishop, Patrick Harrington, a singular Irishman who has dedicated his whole life to missionary work. He will be visiting Manchester in September.
Now, the community is extending its work northwards into the neighbouring area of southern Sudan and southern Ethiopia .
Father Steven Ochieng, who was born in Mombassa and ordained last year, is spearheading their efforts and I asked him about his work and what it costs.
He told me that their parish out-station at Lowarengak, is their jumping-off point for their new work in Todonyang, which straddles the border between Ethiopia and Kenya . Todonyang once had a mixed community of Turkana tribes people and Merile tribes people from Ethiopia . In 1997 there was communal friction and as the village disintegrated, the Turkanas went south and the Merile crossed into Ethiopia . The small school closed and little was left.
The missionary community has been carefully and quietly rebuilding trust and friendship and slowly encouraging people to return to Todonyang. Now Father Steven’s next objective is to build a church, open a school and dispensary, and install access roads and water projects. Among the priests and lay people in their community are qualified engineers, builders, doctors, nurses, vets, teachers and horticulturalists. So every penny he raises goes directly into the work and reaches the people – not to corrupt leaders.
I asked Fr.Steven what is his first priority: “ to finish building our parish church at Todonyang – which we have dedicated to Our Lady Queen of Peace,” he replied.
I then asked how much this will cost. The answer encouragingly reminds us just how far money will go in Africa : £8,000. Repeat, just £8,000 to build a parish church. They also need £4,200 to build a house for the mission team; £3,700 for a dispensary; £7,500 to install water facilities; £3,500 for a nursery school (which will care for children from both the Merile and Turkana tribes); and £1500 for the access road. They are great believers in asking people to take on just one small thing rather than being daunted by an impossible goal.
Fr. Steven is also looking for volunteers to go and work on this cutting-edge mission. Last year a group of sixth form students from Stonyhurst College in Lancashire raised the money and went out to Turkana to build an orphanage for girls. It is now open and flourishing. It just shows what can be done.
So perhaps, in this Year of Africa, and as world leaders talk about making poverty history and about what can be done for Africa, we might just ask ourselves whether we can spare some time – either here or maybe even there – to help this young African priest who is meeting huge spiritual and practical needs without a penny piece in help from any aid agency. Fr. Steven can be reached by e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org