Building mission in the desert washed away by a flash flood!
What do you do if you are building a mission in the desert and it is washed away by a flash flood?
That’s what happened last month to a group from the St Paul’s Missionary Community, working in Nyangatom, in the remote desert region on the border between Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
This entire Turkana area has been the scene of violent ethnic tensions lately as rival tribes who live from their herds of cattle, compete for diminishing water supplies and grazing land. In order to help promote peace, the St Paul’s community has for years been building wells, rock dams, health, education, fishing and agricultural projects to help the pastoralist communities settle, develop and adapt.
The camp at Nyangatom, over the border in Ethiopia is their latest outreach project.
Fr David Eschrich, Fr Angel Valderia and eight others were living in tough conditions in tents. (One night a lion walked through their camp). Together with their team they were digging bore holes for water and offering first aid and basic medical help to the local community as well as learning their language.
Fr Denis Odongo, who visited London recently, told ICN: “The floods came with little warning, washing away tents, medical supplies and equipment. Fortunately no one was injured. David and Angel are out there again now and will be resuming their work again soon and will be moving the camp to a more secure location. Once they have established a good water source, the local people will not have to go to the river again – competing with other tribes.”
In spite of last month’s sudden deluge, the entire region is very severely affected by drought. It would require months of rain to restore the parched grazing land. Many animals have died and local people are forced to rely heavily on food aid. St Paul’s Missionary Community distributes food particularly to elderly people and children across the region. They also run mobile clinics and 15 mother and child centres. “If children do not get good nutrition between the ages of two to seven they do not develop well” Fr Denis said.
Born in Nairobi, Fr Denis initially planned to be a teacher. At the age of 19, in 2001, he visited Turkana and was so impressed with the work there, he says “I never went back.” He applied to begin training for the priesthood and joined the community. Fr Denis was ordained five years ago and last year became Parish Priest, at the church of St James in Kaikor. His parish covers a huge area. “In one week I’m in four different places, driving mostly on the road,” he said. “ But I enjoy being on the move.”
Last year the community suffered another setback when there was a shooting during an anniversary service at the church in Todonyang. For a time parents withdrew their children from the school there. But since January this year the children are back and will be taking primary exams soon. “Its a model school, taking children from the different tribes” said Fr Denis. We are hoping to replicate it in other places.”
In spite of the recent setback, Fr Denis is hopeful about the future. “Turkana is so remote, It’s a place many Kenyans have never visited and know little about,” he said. “But Lodwar now has a small airport with five flights a day. There’s a bank, shops and in the last five years some local government. We hope the government will do more to support development eventually. For years this was left to the church but now a partnership is being built between local government and Catholic Church.”
The greatest challenge at the present time is the drought.
The St Paul’s Missionary Community is supported by the UK-based New Ways – which is run entirely by volunteers. The parish of Our Lady of Peace in Todonyang is twinned with Holy Apostles, Pimlico in London. The mission urgently needs doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers – equipment and support of all kinds.
Just £5 will feed a child in Turkana for a month.
See http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/32787 for more information
Date: June 12th, 2017