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Jenkins, ND representatives travel to Uganda

Kaitlynn Riely | Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Four months after he listened to three speakers discuss the global health crisis at the Notre Dame Forum, University President Father John Jenkins led a group of delegates to Uganda to see firsthand the village the University will partner with through the Notre Dame Millennium Development Initiative (NDMDI).

Notre Dame’s commitment to helping the poor in Uganda grows directly out of its mission as a Catholic university, Jenkins wrote in an online journal entry.

The University delegation spent a week in Uganda meeting with members of the Holy Cross community, touring schools, and seeing a current Millennium Village and the village Notre Dame will sponsor.

“This trip was a chance for some of us in the Notre Dame community to begin to understand the needs of a particular community in Uganda,” Jenkins wrote.

Jenkins was joined on the trip – which ran from Jan. 5 to Jan. 12 – by Executive Assistant to the President Frances Shavers, Associate Vice President for Marketing Communication Todd Woodward, NDMDI Director Father Bob Dowd, NDMDI Assistant Director Tim Lyden, Africana Studies department chair Richard Pierce and sophomore Tess Bone.

Lyden, who visited Uganda earlier in the semester along with Dowd, said the trip was beneficial because it allowed Notre Dame representatives face-to-face contact with the Holy Cross priests and brothers, the Uganda Martyrs University (UMU) faculty and administration and the villagers themselves.

“The whole point [of the trip] was to see where we are going to be working and see the people we are working with,” Lyden said. Reading reports about the country and the Millennium project cannot replace the value of personal contact, he said.

“Only in talking to people face-to-face can you see that this is unlike so many projects that have failed,” Lyden said.

The trip also allowed Jenkins, the head of a university founded by the Congregation of the Holy Cross, to embrace the ties to the large Holy Cross Congregation present in Uganda, he said.

“It meant a lot to the Holy Cross priests and brothers in Africa to see that Notre Dame values what’s going on in Africa,” Lyden said.

On its first morning in Uganda, the group attended a deaconate ordination for three African Holy Cross religious at St. Augustine Church in Kampala. The nearly three-hour Mass, Bone said, was “probably the most beautiful Mass I have ever been to.” Most of the Mass was in English, but many of the songs were song in Luganda, she said.

“It was a nice welcome, jumping into the culture,” Bone said.

Bone, a 2006-07 grant recipient in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP), is conducting a research project titled “The Notre Dame Millennium Development Initiative: Methods and Lessons.”

The next morning, the group went to a local Mass in Jinja, where it saw the source of the Nile River at Lake Victoria.

Class of 2006 alumni Matt Young and Clay Allison, who are teaching in Uganda for a year and a half through Holy Cross and Notre Dame, showed the group around Lake View Secondary School and St. Jude’s Primary School later on the second day.

Bone said it was difficult to see the dismal conditions of the school facilities.

“The latrines and the kitchen and the classrooms were these tiny dank dark rooms,” Bone said. “I could not imagine kids actually learning there.”

The group traveled on Jan. 8 to Ruhiira, where a Millennium Village Project (MVP) had been running for 10 months.

Visiting a site where the Millennium Village had already impacted the community was helpful because it showed the delegation one case in which the program had been implemented and let them see the effect it had on peoples’ daily lives, Shavers said.

In her office in the Main Building, Shavers has a picture on her computer of a young African girl she met in Ruhiira outside of their health care center.

This girl and other Africans like her don’t have the things we take for granted, but still manage to be cheerful, Shavers said.

The picture of this girl, Shavers said, reminds her of “their extreme generosity and warmth and laughter that comes from people despite not having heat, as we have it right now, electricity, computer access, a toilet, running water and all of these things.”

During the tour of the village and the education and health facilities, Bone said she noticed the people were happy even though the kids were running around shoeless, in rags, and one girl she saw had a distended belly.

“You could visibly see the problems they were living among but you could also see the smiles on their faces,” Bone said. “It was a very interesting dichotomy.”

On Jan. 9, the group met representatives of Uganda Martyrs University (UMU), the largest Catholic university in the country. UMU will partner with Notre Dame and the villagers in the MVP.

Lyden, who has now met with members of UMU five different times, said he thinks this will be a long-term partnership.

“There’s a stereotype of African universities as ivory towers that don’t mix with the abject poverty that is sometimes right outside their walls, but I think UMU is of the mindset that they intend to take it to the next level,” Lyden said. Professors at the University seem excited, he said, and have indicated that they are ready to help out the community.

Later that day, the Notre Dame delegation drove to Nindye, the village Notre Dame and UMU will join in the MVP. When the group drove into Nindye, approximately 300 villagers had gathered to greet the delegation with handshakes and applause, Shavers said. For most of the 5,000 villagers, this was the first time they had heard that Notre Dame would be partnering with them, Lyden said.

Dr. Johnson Nkuuhe, country coordinator of the Millennium Village Project in Uganda, introduced the group and explained why it had come to Nindye. Nkuuhe encouraged the villagers to ask questions about the process, Shavers said, and they asked “tough questions.”

“They are willing to do the work and they realize that,” she said. “They want nothing but to be a part of making their own dreams and plans come to fruition.”

The day after seeing the village for the first time, group members were able to process everything they had seen and the people they had met, Bone said.

Some members of the group attended a lunch and a meeting Jan. 11 with the Uganda Episcopal Conference of Bishops. They talked about the challenges of Catholic education in the United States and Uganda and discussed Notre Dame’s objectives in its involvement in the MVP, Lyden said. The four-hour meeting was an “open and free dialogue,” he said.

The group concluded its Africa visit Friday with a trip to the Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) at Makerere University, where it met with Dr. Miriam Opwonya, who visited Notre Dame in September to speak at the global health forum.

Shavers said the trip was successful in accomplishing the University’s goal of exploring the problems facing the Nindye villagers.

“We really wanted to try and learn to understand more broadly the issues that affect the people of Uganda,” Shavers said. “That was very much accomplished.”