A Drop to Drink
5/31/2019By Andrew Fowler
Virginia Knights help bring medical care and clean water to remote African village
KITAKYUSA, Uganda — One Knight’s determination to “give the children a fighting chance” turned into a mission of providing water and medical care to an African village.
In January 2012, Father Gerald Musuubire was traveling to visit family in Uganda. He took parishioner Robert Maher, a fellow member of St. Peter and Paul Council 11475 in Palmyra, Va., with him on the visit to the remote St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Parish in Kitakyusa. Upon arrival, Maher was shocked by the poverty and lack of medical care.
“There was nothing there,” Maher said. “People put fruit into the collection baskets because they don’t have money. That’s how bad this area is.”
Maher asked Father Musuubire what happens to villagers if they get sick. The priest’s response was dire: they get better on their own or they die.
In fact, two in five village children were not surviving to their fifth birthday. This moved Maher to act.
After the flight back home, Maher said he was determined to “give the children a fighting chance.” He approached his council about raising money to build a clinic at St. Francis parish — where the Knights were given permission to build a facility.. Council 11475 raised $60,000 and received donated medical equipment from the University of Virginia. In January 2014, the clinic opened.
Since then, the clinic has treated 9,000 people per year for malaria, arthritis, breathing problems and also administers vaccinations.
Father John Vianney Kitoolo, former pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, noted just how much the Knights’ assistance has helped the people there, “From the long distances they used to move to access health services, from the long hours they would sit in a queue waiting to receive medical assistance, all those are now memories to narrate to next generation because what they need is now just a stone’s throw away.”
Maher and Council 11475 raised an additional $24,000 to construct living quarters nurses adjacent to the clinic which opened in 2017 for the nurses working there.
But then there was another need: clean water.
Children from Kitakyusa carry jugs for miles to the closest water source, which is a swamp. The children then boil the water to make it potable. The lack of readily available clean water is a major concern for the clinic.
“We have an increase in patients since the completion of the facility,” Father Denis Wamala, the current pastor of St. Francis of Assisi wrote to Maher. “There is no supply of running water at the parish itself. … We request(ed) the Knights of Columbus to come to our rescue.”
Council 11475 has raised nearly $15,000 to have a water-well dug next to the clinic. Maher says construction for a 30 foot-well cost between $25,000 to $30,000.
The Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus made a donation to a $1 million fund to construct an additional 94 clean water projects to bring clean water to 48,236 people in southeastern Uganda. The Knights’ contribution funded 8 drilled wells and 2 rehabilitated wells in partnership with charity: water.
Funding the water wells is just one way Knights serve the most disadvantaged. Through the Helping Hands initiative, Knights councils worldwide organize programs as they see fit to assist the needy.
“[As Knights], we do what we can to help people,” Maher said. “It’s time for me to give back.”
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