By Pam Lucero
“For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.” Matthew 25:35
Water had always been a problem in Kibingekito, Uganda.
It is a remote village about four hours by car from Kampala just south of the Equator near Lake Victoria.
Only about 400 people live there now, scattered along a narrow dirt road bordered by lush foliage, banana, avocado and mango trees. It is drier now and most homes still do not have running water nor electricity.
Water has to be carried in jugs or “jerry cans” from a polluted stream down a steep hill. Those who live on the mountain side, and those who live far from the stream can travel for up to three hours. The children and women are the ones that carry the water, which must be boiled before being consumed. There is not sufficient water to cultivate crops.
Father Peter Ssekajugo, I.M.C., is Parochial Vicar at St. Francis de Sales Parish in Riverside. He knows the realities of Kibingekito first hand and he has used this life experience to help this faith community extend its hands in solidarity with brothers and sisters thousands of miles away.
Fr. Peter grew up there on a small farm with his parents and 13 siblings. His father, Bruno, was a teacher who had only a small salary to support them. His mother, Josephine, cared for the children at home and worked in the family garden.
Their future, and that of other families, depended on their children growing up to be educated and productive.
Fr. Peter walked barefoot almost four miles each way with some of his brothers, sisters, and neighbors to the Catholic school located at the parish of Bethlehem.
Later he was sent to St John’s Catholic High School in Kabuwoko. But he never forgot his family in the village, nor his parish. He never forgot carrying water from that stream to his house every day and the terrible lack of water in his village and at the school in Bethlehem. Going back to his village to install a water well for his village and another well at his elementary school in Bethlehem, was Fr. Peter’s dream.
As he began to plan how he would fulfill his dream, there were some practical questions: how was the water going to be pumped out? How deep was the well going to be? It had to be a deep well - over 80 meters deep due to climate change causing a persistent drought and the lowering water table. Water, if it could be found, had to be pumped into large storage tanks to have the pressure to let it be distributed to everyone by gravity. There was no available electricity for the water pump. Neither the villagers in Kibingekito nor the schools in Bethlehem could afford the cost of bringing electricity to homes in the village much less for drilling a water well. Fr. Peter, having taken a vow of poverty, could not pay for the water wells. So, like the good Catholic that he is, he prayed. He prayed while at his high school. He prayed when he studied in the Consolata Seminary in Colombia for four years. And he prayed during his tenure as Pastor at the Mission Parish in the Amazon River Basin between Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil for 14 years.
Then Fr. Peter was assigned to the U.S. as a seasoned Consolata Missionary Priest, now fluent in Spanish and English. After three years in New Jersey, he was sent by his superiors to St. Francis de Sales Parish. In 2016, Fr. Peter presented his water well dream to the Consolata Missionaries, who accepted it and adopted it as part of the mission.
Parishioners throughout the Diocese of San Bernardino started seeing his pictures, including those that he posted at St. Francis de Sales. They were pictures of children collecting water from a stream, as he did years ago. Soon, parishioners were asking, “Where in heaven’s name is Uganda? Why didn’t they have electricity or water?” Fr. Peter patiently shared his compelling story and his dream. His prayers were slowly being answered by fundraisers and donations which were sufficient to pay for the drilling of two wells, including solar powered pumps to supply Kibingekito village of 400, the St. Gabriel Elementary School with 900 students, St. Sebastian High School with over 700 students, the Catholic Health Center and the parish church, itself. Fr. Peter’s dream was becoming a reality.
In early 2018, Fr. Peter and Duncan Webb, a longtime parishioner of St. Francis de Sales, traveled to Uganda. By the time they arrived in Uganda, the engineer, Florence Baseka, employed by one drilling company, had located some points where water could be found. A reasonable price was negotiated for boring a well in the village of Kibingekito. It included all the solar power needed to operate the pump, two five kiloliter water tanks, towers, and three distribution spigots protected by cement walls.
A second contract was negotiated with the same engineer for installing solar power for an existing well near the elementary school in Bethlehem. As it turned out, there was enough water in that existing Bethlehem well aided by the solar well water pump, to supply the elementary school, the small parish hospital, and the whole Bethlehem village.
The excitement of the children and the people of the village was an overwhelming feeling of pure joy and gratitude. Water supplied to three separate communities in Uganda exceeded the team’s goals. Fr. Peter has named the project Saint Bruno Water Well, after the Ugandan martyr and also his father, who was named Bruno.
These improvements have changed the quality of life for various communities by bringing clean running water to a number of schools, health centers, parishes, and villages. Some of the benfits made possible by these water wells:
• Health conditions have improved. Children and adults are no longer dying of water-borne diseases.
• The natural environment is well conserved since people are no longer cutting down trees in search of new sources of water. The trees are left to provide shade and give off oxygen.
• Villagers can use economic forms of energy because this project uses solar energy.
We thank you and invite everyone in the Diocese and outside to please continue helping to extend this project, making dreams come true in providing fresh water in additional communities in Uganda.
Pam Lucero is a parishioner of St. Francis de Sales Church in Riverside.