|Sewing in Buyamba|
Women had to walk 12 miles to the nearest milling station, employment was almost non-existent, 12% of the people were HIV/Aids infected and on average 2-3 children from each family died before the age of 10 due to a lack of medical care. The people of Our Lady of Lourdes, initially encouraged by the late Fr Bernard Rowley (RIP), dug deep, raising £12,000 to build a maize mill and a roof over the parish church.
But that was just the beginning. In 2005 one parishioner, Helmut Wagner (then aged 68), packed his bags for Buyamba to see first-hand what life was like there and how he and his Church could help.
He was so moved by the hopeless situation that he extended the existing parish humanitarian aid mission which has achieved a staggering £420,000 raised by parishioners, friends, relatives and a public company in Germany to set up, amongst other projects, a clean drinking water project providing clean water to 6,000 villagers and seven schools, a dairy goat project, a dressmaking and carpentry training centre, a new, improved school building and dormitory and overhead watering system for farming.
"When I visited the local school I asked the 490 children: `how many of you drink milk every day?' and just three or four put their hands up,'' he said. So a dairy goat project was born, with 430 goats donated to families with HIV/AIDS and orphans, using a breed of goats that supply 2.5 litres of milk per goat a day.
Helmut made eight visits to Buyamba over seven years and enjoyed every one. "I need a break now but a lot of the projects are sustainable and now the people of Buyamba are much better equipped to stand on their own".
Helmut's faith has helped sustain all his hard work.
"Faith is so important and goes beyond being a Catholic, or whatever. "I think every child deserves a chance, whatever their creed or tribe, and we hope that the projects can be sustained by the local community for Buyamba for many years to come.'' Helmut now has a lifelong bond with the people of this Uganda village. "If you go to their church we helped refurbish and hear them singing their hymns you don't feel so far from home," he said.
The people of Buyamba hold Helmut dear and, together with his wife Margrit and close friends Jeff and Anne McCormack whose generosity accounts for more than a quarter of all funds raised, he is on their panel of elders, "I have had a good life in East Molesey and I just wanted to give something back to the poorest of the poor,'' says Helmut. But after 11 years of support for Buyamba the time has come for our parish to transfer its energies and generous fund-raising ability to another part of the world where the need is as great, if not greater.''