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Faith, Hope and Water

BC alumnus is determined to improve life for a parish in the Ugandan village of Mubende

Fr. Emmanuel Mwerekande MA'06. (Photo by Ed Hayward)

By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff

Published: Sept. 20, 2012

Alumnus Emmanuel Mwerekande is a Catholic priest who is striving to bring hope and life’s basic necessity — clean water — to Our Lady of Fatima parish in the village of Mubende in the predominately Catholic nation of Uganda.

The parish — with 45,000 members, 49 sub-churches and 15 Catholic schools open to children of all faiths — is a vibrant faith community, with about five weddings a month and more than 2,000 baptisms a year. This year, 620 children made their first Communion on Holy Thursday.

Fr. Emmanuel recalled the day that access to clean water became so important to his ministry. He was visiting a woman sick with HIV/AIDS when he realized that the medication she was taking was being washed down with filthy, bug-infested water.

“I didn’t want to give her the water,” he said. “It was going to add more misery. We have no running water. We collect water in pond-like wells that are shared with animals. Our water has to be boiled before you can drink it and even then you cannot be sure you have cleared the bacteria. So, the people get sick from the water.”

 Other threats come from the disease-carrying mosquitoes found near the water sources. An added difficulty in Mubende is that the water wells are a 10-mile walk from the villages. When there is a drought, the children who fetch the water must walk farther and then do not have time to go to school.

“I became a priest because I wanted to help people. I grew up in a poor village and saw how the priests and missionaries were helping people. I felt it was my call to help people,” said Fr. Emmanuel, who was ordained in 1990 and earned a master of arts degree in pastoral ministry from Boston College in 2006.

Help for Mubende came from BC via the establishment of the Irish Famine Memorial (IFM) Fund, endowed through a generous gift from the family of former University Trustee Thomas Flatley, who died in 2008. Fr. Emmanuel was awarded an IFM grant to install 10,000-liter water tanks as well as latrines at some of the schools in the parish. The grant also enabled the purchase of books and school supplies and the establishment of a lunch program for schoolchildren ages five to 15. Funds also were provided to purchase 200-liter rain barrels for the elderly and families so they can collect rainwater from their roofs.

The advances have “brought a great change in the lives of the schoolchildren and the community at large,” said Fr. Emmanuel. “The students were so excited to have books. We are experiencing a big food shortage that has led to high food prices that are too much for some families to bear. Students and parents were so excited about the lunch program.

“I’m glad that my dream of helping people is coming true because of Boston College and the Irish Famine Fund. I’m able to help people with water and education,” he added.

The next project on Fr. Emmanuel’s agenda is the building of a new church and rectory to replace the parish’s 87-year-old central church and rectory that have been devastated by termites and recently condemned.

Another long-term goal of Fr. Emmanuel is the development of a sustainable agriculture program. He believes there may be opportunities to tap into a local spring for water. The community would benefit from the food grown, but it is not his first priority.  “The people have been asking me about irrigation, but it’s impossible to think about feeding a plant when a child is dying without water.

“My dream is a water collection, purification and distribution system,” said Fr. Emmanuel, noting that the nearby hospital does not have clean, running water. “Water is life.

“I do what I can and the rest, God does.”