Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 23, 2006
Oblates aid development in Kenyan parish
By BILL GLEN
- photo supplied
Oblates and local parishioners are working on a major water project to serve 2,800 families in Kenya.
"There were serious problems with education and health care. There were concerns on the roads from bandits who stopped vehicles and robbed people."
To show their appreciation, the locals raised money and built a stone house for the priests that was much nicer than any of their own homes. It had a propane stove of which the locals were particularly proud.
Forster stressed that not every picture of Kenya is "World Vision with the children and the flies." It is not the reality, he said. It is part of the reality.
"They are a proud group with dignity. We are up on the mountain in a rain forest. It is very green - excellent for growing tea and vegetables. There was a drought last year in Kenya and our parish was able to assist those who were starving with loads of beans and maize."
The parish now has 11 mission churches (prayer houses) where Mass is held on Sunday, or a Scripture service with a catechist if a priest is not available. One church doubles as a youth centre that provides computer instruction.
The RCIA brings 50 to 75 people a year into the Catholic faith. Five communities have built permanent stone churches and three more have built temporary churches out of wood. The locals built and paid for everything, although many of them earn only $2.50 a day from back-breaking labour.
"They are very hard working and the Church is a very important part of their lives," Forster said.
"They are very hard working and the Church is a very important part of their lives,"
Father Ken Forster
"It is like the Church was in Canada maybe 80 years ago. We are involved in health care and education."
The people, using their own money, initiated all of the projects with which the Oblates are involved. They had to come up with the first shilling and the Oblates would seek to match it through MAMI (Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate).
For five years, the Oblate team has assisted local parishioners with a major gravity-fed water project, serving 2,800 families who live on two to three acre farms, over an area of 100 square kms.
Some 128 km of plastic pipe has been laid in ditches more than a metre deep. All the work was done by hand. There are 40 large concrete storage tanks; some as large as 225,000 litres. These were also built by hand.
This project received $200,000 from MAMI, $400,000 from the Canadian International Development Agency and another $300,000 raised by the people.
Forster is hoping to raise another $100,000 to complete the project and turn on the taps.
"The project is about a year away. The locals are very enthusiastic about it. But they need more money."
The Oblates have assisted in building numerous schools for the children and a bakery for a women's group that employs 14 people who sell upwards of 1,500 loaves a day at the local market. A men's group has a string of small shops, including a furniture manufacturing business that operates from one of the prayer houses. Three prayer houses have bought land and planted tea for sale.
- photo supplied
The 128 km of ditches have all been hand dug and the pipe has also been laid by hand.
An HIV/AIDS support group has been established in the parish. Without any government funding, the parish held a fundraiser and gathered about $1,200 of seed money that now helps more than 70 people living with AIDS who regularly attend the monthly meetings.
"A huge problem has been that the drugs have been too expensive. We applied to a number of AIDS organizations for funds. After three years, we said 'This can't go on.' So we raised our own funds."
The money also helps to pay for a mobile volunteer counselling and testing clinic that comes up to the parish once a month. About 20 people are tested for AIDS for free.
"What we have done is broken the stigma," Forster said. "People feel comfortable to join a group when there is more than 70 people. They are now able to be tested and get drugs."
There are currently 16 young men in formation, eight of whom are Oblates in temporary vows. Five are studying in South Africa, three are in Cameroon and eight are in Kenya.
The Oblates recently purchased property in Nairobi for a minor seminary.
It is expensive to send the seminarians abroad for their novitiate and theology. Forster estimates the cost to be about $6,000 a year for each candidate. He would like to see individuals or parishes in the Edmonton Archdiocese sponsor a seminarian for a year.
"I think we have good fellows there. But it isn't easy when you buy First World products with Third World shillings. It just isn't possible to pay for a university education with Kenyan shillings," Forster said. "If we can get sponsorship for the men, that would be a tremendous help to our mission."
Anyone wishing to assist the Oblate mission can make a donation payable to MAMI. Send it to Kenya Mission, c/o The Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate, 601 Taylor St. West, Saskatoon, SK S7M 0C9.
For more information about the Oblate's mission and ministry, go to www.omilacombe.ca.
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