By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Delano’s Jeff Reither isn’t of African descent, but the people of Uganda have become almost like family to him.
“They are so hospitable; so welcoming,” said Reither, who helped build a high school in Uganda in 2009.
This summer, from June 12-28, Reither and a group from his home parish in Neillsville, WI, will be returning to the school to add a library.
“There is still room, if people want to come,” he said. “It’s a very powerful, neat experience.”
Getting to know the Ugandan people is a major focus of the trips.
“They wanted the relational aspect,” Reither said, adding that the church also sponsors trips to the US for Ugandan students.
At the beginning of December, Sister Salome Nambi, who is in charge of the new school, spent a week at Reither’s home.
“This is my fourth time to the US, and first time to Minnesota,” Nambi said. “I really feel so comfortable here.”
Nambi speaks fluent English, which is the trade language taught in schools.
The country’s primary language is Luganda, with many native dialects spoken in various villages.
A clean, fresh start
The idea for a new high school in Uganda originated with Reither’s church many years ago.
“The first time, they did a clean water project in several villages,” said Nambi, who is also in charge of an all-girl boarding school called St. Kizito.
When the church decided to do another service project, Nambi told them about the need for a school.
The necessary $40,000 was raised to construct the 28-by-128-foot building, and in 2009, Reither and more than 20 other volunteers took an 18-day construction trip to Africa.
When they left, native workers completed the school, and it opened in January 2011.
“They named it Our Lady of Guadalupe School, after the saint of the Americas,” Reither said.
During the trip, Reither spent six days helping a semi-nomadic tribe in Karamoja with cattle spraying and dog vaccinations.
Reither said he was shown kindness everywhere he went, and felt safe except when driving in a city of 7 million people.
“There are no controlled intersections,” Reither said. “That was the scariest part for me.”
Dancing and drums
The travel time from Delano to Uganda took nearly two days, but Reither is looking forward to doing it again.
“When we pull in, all of the students are there, and there is dancing and drum playing,” he said. “You forget, instantly, what you just went through. You are just overwhelmed by the amount of love and support you receive.”
In Uganda, going to school is a sought-after privilege. Elementary schools have up to 120 students in one room, with no discipline problems, according to Reither.
“It was fascinating,” he said. “People know that education is so important. I think we kind of take it for granted. There, it’s so vital.”
“They see that if they go to school, they can go to college, get a good job, and start living a good life,” Nambi added. “They have that focus. They need to be disciplined.”
In order to be approved by the Ugandan government’s minister of education, a school must have classrooms, a library, and a science lab.
At Our Lady of Guadalupe, the library will be constructed this summer, and the science lab will be the third phase of the project.
Currently, the school serves 100 students.
“In five years, we hope to be up to 1,000 students,” Nambi said. “It’s a matter of continuing construction.”
Although the travel cost per person ($3,000) is significant, sending volunteers directly to Uganda adds a personal dimension to the work, according to Reither.
“We would rather have people come,” Nambi agreed. “I really feel so happy that people are helping out the needy. They have let us see the generosity of God.”
The cost of the library is $60,000, which comes out to $17 per square foot.
People who would like to donate to construction efforts can send their tax-exempt gift to The Ugandan Library Fund c/o State Bank of Delano, PO Box 530, Delano, MN 55328.