ST. JOSEPH FAMILY LIFE CENTER, MASAKA, UGANDA

“When we strengthen the family, we strengthen the nation”

Do you believe in dreams? Here is one born in Uganda: The dream of building St. Joseph Family Life Center. Here couples, pastoral, religious and community leaders and health care professionals will come for training and formation in our marriage building, family life and safe birth programs. The dream comes from the heart of the Maternal Life Uganda team – who have worked for so long and in so many places to help build and renew marriages and families. They know what is needed and what makes a lasting difference.

Click Image to See Video of St. Joseph Family Life Center

Click Image to See Video of St. Joseph Family Life Center

Here is the dream in their own words:

“Today in Kitovu Cathedral Parish, we had a seminar for men and we all agreed we need a center desperately – there are so many broken families. We have found that men need more help than women to understand what a family is all about. Mothers get high marks during our programs for their motherly role, but fathers in most cases get a failure! 

We prayed and we chose the name St. Joseph because he is the saint for Fathers and we see that most fathers need empowerment to take up his example in caring for their families like he did. St. Joseph was a chaste husband, he was hard working, he served his family. . . We need his example. We believe such a place will benefit all of Uganda and other countries. We believe that God in his mercy will provide all of the money.” Gonzaga Lubega Oct 18, 2013 

The dream has begun:

1. A beautiful three-acre piece of land outside of Masaka was found and purchased by Maternal Life International/Uganda. The owners of the land had been through the Faithful House program and were so happy to sell the land for a cause so close to their heart. 

2. We completed an engineering site survey and the land was found to be excellent for building.

3. The Maternal Life Uganda team and volunteers have cleared the land by hand. It is ready for building. 

4. We contracted with an architect and have drawn up the plans for the center.  Plans: Picture 1 Picture 2 

5. We have received competitive bids for the phase 1 construction (50 bed hostel and pit latrines).        

ffIn our photo gallery our pictures, drawings and costs for the next phase. We are praying for donors who would come forward and allow this dream to continue!

Dr. Mulcaire-Jones’s and his son Liam’s remarks on St. Joseph:

Uganda is a country that was ravaged by civil war and oppression during the years of Idi Amin and then from the late 1980’s even up to now, tragically afflicted by the AIDS epidemic. We have worked in Uganda since 2003 and have a very capable and committed staff of five working out of the city of Masaka. 

On arrival, we were met at the Entebbe airport by the director of our programs, Gonzaga Lubega. I’ll let Liam describe how he greeted Gonzaga and those he continued to meet: 

  •  “When I met Gonzaga, I gave him a hug and then called him “My first African friend.” I found out what his favorite African animal was. Then I met his wife Paskazia, and she was my “2nd” African friend.” I soon had more African friends then I could count. Gonzaga’s favorite animal is the zebra and so was Paskazia’s.”
  •  “I also found out about their families and children. I would get to hold their babies, especially a baby named David. Some of the children became like my own friends in Butte. I learned their Uganda dances and we played soccer together. They had a birthday party for me and gave me a cake and this African shirt.” 

Liam’s careful attention to each person holds a great lesson: people have faces, names, stories and even favorite animals. The beauty of Catholic development is that it based on respect for the life and dignity of the human person - all persons: the foreigner, the immigrant, the unborn. In the Body of Christ, there are no strangers. We are all African friends. 

When I go to Africa, I am first of all a student. Africa has been a teacher for me. I want to share a lesson from a single word that I learned in Cameroon where Mary and I worked for two years at a large Catholic hospital. Each day and many evenings I would walk about a quarter of a mile between our living quarters and the hospital. There I would often pass the villagers going to their houses and farms.

 I am walking down the hill from the hospital. It is in the heat of the dry season and the road is dusty and worn. Walking up the same incline is an elderly woman carrying a bundle of sticks for firewood on her head. Sweat is pouring from her brow. She stops, smiles and says to me “Asha.” I in turn greet her with the words, ‘Asha, Mommy.”

What is in a word? Asha is the pidgin English word which literally means “I see you are carrying a heavy load.” It used as a greeting, “Asha” and also used to express deep sorrow as when you must tell a mother and father their child has died. “Asha –o, Asha –o” 

Africa is a land filled with Asha. There is an openness and hospitality that the Western world has long forgotten. Yet, in the same word, the same breath, there is an incredible sadness and brokenness.

After being away for Cameroon for eleven years, I had the opportunity to return. When I had worked there before, once a month I would go to see patients at a health center in a village called Djottin. The road to Djottin took you over the mountains to a different valley and tribal area. I used to look forward to the trip and getting away from the hospital routine. 

In returning I was able to visit Djottin again. Nothing had appeared to change. The roads were still potholed, the mountains were still brilliant green and I swear we had to swerve to miss the same goats that were there eleven years ago. I began to make rounds at the health center. In the pediatric ward were the usual cases of malaria and pneumonia. Leaving there, I entered a room where a young woman of 28 was lying on a broken down wooden bed. At her side, was her elderly mother who was caring for both the young woman and the young woman’s three children. I will never forget the sight of this young woman. She weighed no more than 90 pounds. Her black skin hung loosely over her skeletal frame. She had a purple dyed splashed in her mouth to combat a fungal infection. As you spoke to her, her soft brown eyes drifted to the ceiling. On her left forearm of skin and bone, she had written her name in ink. . . Her name was Immaculate. . . Immaculate was dying of AIDS in a remote unknown corner of the world with no hospice care, no pain medications, and no understanding of what was happening to her. Asha, Immaculate, Asha. 

The word Asha speaks to a world, as the poet Yeats put it, “more full of weeping than you can understand.” At that time in Africa, 9000 people a day were dying of AIDS. Yet, at the same time there were 14,000 people newly infected each day. How could you stop such an epidemic? 

It turned out the key was you had to get couples to be faithful. In public health language, this is called “reducing multiple concurrent partnerships.” Within this context, we developed a program called “The Faithful House” in collaboration with Catholic Relief Services. Using the metaphor of a constructing a simple Africa house, a couple is led by trained facilitators through a participatory process of examining key areas in their relationship: the foundation of their marriage in God, four pillars of love, respect, faithfulness and communication, walls representing their values, windows of light and forgiveness and so on. They examine together where there house may be broken: by not respecting by each other, by infidelity, by alcoholism, by domestic violence and what they could do to repair it.

Amazing things happened with this program. When a couple comes together and heals their marriage, they are much more likely to be faithful and avoid AIDS, they are less vulnerable to food insecurity and they are more likely to emerge out of poverty. The message spreads: neighbors see the transformation that takes place. They see the husband helping his wife cook and clean, they see the couple which previously was fighting, walking together and smiling, they see both father and mother helping each other with the children. We inevitably here stories of women coming to our trainers and wondering if they can get some of the potion that has been given to that couple. . . and sometimes asking for a double dose for their husband. 

Over 100,000 couples have been through the Faithful House program. Our focus is to help people help themselves and to become leaders and trainers in their own country. The Faithful House a healthier and more secure house: couples are at peace, children are better cared for, poverty is reduced. We also train nurses, midwives and physicians in essential obstetrical care –in order that women experience a safe birth, free of death and free of HIV infection. Does it make a difference? At our recent training one of the women, Judith from Diocese of Kasese near the Congo border turned to me and said, “Do you know that these programs are the best thing that ever happened to women? You know now we have better lives.” 

These places and countries may seem distant and far away. Yet, they are so much closer to you than you imagine. At Mass in Uganda, the priest raised the same host and chalice to be consecrated, as Father Beretta did today. We came forward to receive the same Eucharist: Ugandans, Tanzanians, Americans, people of different races, speaking different languages, Luganda, English, Swahili and Nkole. We sat in silence after receiving, our eyes daring to rest on the same Christ Crucified, who took upon himself the weight of Asha, the weight of the world weeping. We felt in our hearts the same stirring, the same hope, knowing that “Asha,” the heavy load of human suffering, is borne by the love of Christ Jesus. 

After Mass, we went to a flat topped hill overlooking the Kampala/Masaka road. Here we have purchased three acres of land to build St. Joseph’s Family Life Center, a national and regional training site where these programs can be shared and spread with couples, facilitators and health care professionals throughout East Africa. We felt together the cool breeze coming from Lake Victoria many miles away. We walked the boundaries of the land and examined the stone markers that outline each corner. We prayed together there as silly dreamers, that God can do what is impossible for man. From the hills overlooking Masaka to the hills of Butte, Montana to the hill country of Judea, the soft breeze touches us all. God has looked with favor on his lowly ones, the mighty God has done great things for us.

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