A Catholic church in East Northport raised $125,000 to build a health clinic in the home village of a priest from Africa who serves the parish.
Now, with the clinic in Uganda completed, the search is on for more supporters and more money to furnish the facility with beds, medical equipment and supplies so that it can open and begin helping those in need.
“This clinic would be something at the heart of my priesthood forever, because I really know how our people suffer so much,” said the Rev. Vian Ntegerej’Imana, associate pastor at St. Anthony of Padua parish in East Northport.
His home village of Nyagisozi is in a rural region about 350 miles from the Ugandan capital of Kampala. An “ambulance” there consists of four people carrying a bamboo stretcher to the nearest hospital some 15 miles away.
The new clinic is to bring at least some services closer to the 15,000 people living in the area, Ntegerej’Imana said.
The cause is “so dear to me because I have seen mothers die because they have no access to medical assistance,” he said. One section of the facility will be for pediatrics, and the other for maternity.
Ntegerej’Imana’s mother gave birth to one of her four children along a roadside as she tried to walk to the hospital, he said. Two children were born at home, but died as infants at the ages 3 months and 2 weeks, largely because of inadequate medical treatment and supplies.
Ntegerej’Imana, 36, was the only one who was born in a hospital.
“I think he got their attention when he said his mother had to walk 15 miles to give birth to him,” the Rev. Joseph Mirro, pastor of St. Anthony’s, said of parishioners.
Ntegerej’Imana said he does not want to go back to parishioners to ask for more money because they already have given so much. He and Mirro are trying to figure out where to go next. They think they will need at least $100,000 to supply the clinic.
There is no electricity in the region, so a solar panel system must be purchased to provide energy. There is no running water or paved roads. Vehicles are scarce.
The project to raise money for building the clinic ignited enthusiasm in the 4,000-family parish. Children raised about $30,000 of the total through car washes, bake sales, basketball tournaments, walk-a-thons, bottle collections, extra chores at home and other activities, said Patricia Seibert, coordinator of religious education for the parish.
“I think it is phenomenal,” said one parent, Kathleen Murray. “After the children saw the presentation . . . and realized that if you get sick you have to be carried on a straw, sort of like a gurney to the hospital many, many miles . . . I think that was a real eye-opener for them.”
“We thought this project was so phenomenal because we could actually help his community while he is up in East Northport helping us,” she said, referring to Ntegerej’Imana.
Murray’s son, Brendan, now 13, raised $3,200 himself, the bulk of it a $3,000 donation from his grandmother. The rest he raised through the walk-a-thon.
“I really thought that that project was just amazing,” Brendan said. “I really like that he was going back to his roots and helping his community, because that is what the church is all about, right?”
Ntegerej’Imana studied at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, partly through a scholarship provided by the Diocese of Rockville Centre. He is scheduled to return to his homeland in 2019 and dreams of having the clinic completed by then.
He said the parish’s fundraising campaign “was just very humbling to me.”
“I felt I had no words to express our gratitude. It showed me this was a true act of charity,” he said. “They just loved to help these poor people.”