Kalama Project puts faith into action - Catholic Courier

Kalama Project puts faith into action

Local Catholics recently put their faith into action and worked to help neighbors they’d never met before in a faraway country. The result was a bond of love spanning from the Finger Lakes region all the way to Kalama, Kenya, as well as a 100-meter well, a new health-care clinic and four scholarships.

Members of St. Mary Parish in Canandaigua and St. Bridget/St. Joseph in East Bloomfield raised more than $60,000 to benefit the people of Kalama, which is the home village of Father Dominic Munini, sacramental minister at the two parishes. The parishes’ Kalama Project first began to take shape last spring, when parishioners asked to learn more about Father Munini’s background.

"They said, ‘Let us know you, let us know how you have been brought up and the challenges you have faced and the challenges your people face now. We’ll see if we can do something about it," Father Munini said.

So Father Munini told parishioners that there is no fresh water in Kalama. As a young boy he walked two miles to the Athi River every morning. Once there he climbed down a steep embankment, gathered a large bucket of water, climbed the embankment, carried the water back home and then hurried to school in order to be there by 7:30 a.m. People in Kalama still do this, he told parishioners.

The Athi River is the only source of water for miles, but it is contaminated so humans cannot drink the water without becoming sick. Instead, it is used for washing and for watering the animals, which are not very healthy.

The people of Kalama also struggle with education, Father Munini said. Most people in his village cannot afford to go to school past the eighth grade. Three of the four high schools that children could attend are residential, meaning they would have to live at the school, noted Deacon Claude Lester, director of religious education and coordinator of the Kalama Project.

"My people are poor. They can’t afford to pay for their studies," Father Munini said.

The people of Kalama also struggle to receive medical care. There are no health-care professionals or medical-treatment facilities in Kalama, and the nearest such facility is several towns away. Even if people are able to walk to that facility, rarely are they able to afford treatment, Father Munini said.

"Those three challenges I gave them. I was not expecting any big assistance," Father Munini told the Catholic Courier.

St. Mary and St. Bridget/St. Joseph parishioners, however, quickly latched on to those three problems and began brainstorming ways to help, Deacon Lester said.

"There was just a wonderful groundswell of interest," he said.

The parishioners decided to dig a well for fresh water in Kalama and build a health-care clinic in the village, and several women religious stationed several towns from Kalama volunteered to staff the clinic several days a week. Parishioners also decided to fund two high-school scholarships and two college scholarships, one to a nursing college and one to a teaching college.

"People were very interested in the education program, and it was kind of inadvertently that we found out there are no libraries," Deacon Lester said. "Now we have this designated part of the clinic building as a library."

The price tag for the Kalama Project totaled more than $60,000, he said, and parishioners decided to raise the money from the beginning of September through the end of December 2009. They held a variety of fundraisers, including a very successful alternative gift-giving fundraiser at Christmas. Even the children got involved through Coins for Kalama, when they trick-or-treated for coins instead of candy on Halloween night.

Parishioners of all ages from the two clustered parishes forged a strong bond as they worked together on the project.

"It was a great way to bring the two communities together. This is a new program that can give us the freedom to say this is our program," Deacon Lester said.

Parishioners reached their goal by the end of 2009, and Father Munini will attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Kalama in June, when the well and clinic will begin functioning. Father Munini said he’s touched by the parishioners’ enthusiastic, generous response to this project.

"I feel so humbled and I can’t express my joy," Father Munini said.

People in Kalama, meanwhile, are finding it hard to believe they will soon have fresh water, and hard to imagine how greatly their lives will be changed for the better through this project. St. Mary and St. Bridget/St. Joseph parishioners plan to keep helping them and funding the scholarships by holding the alternative gift-giving and Coins for Kalama fundraisers every year, Deacon Lester said.

"The Americans have been so gentle and kind, and those memories will remain in my village for generations," Father Munini said. "That is a powerful reminder of what love means, what faith means."

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