For the past seven years Catholics in Canandaigua and Bloomfield have worked hard to better the lives of people across the globe in a small Kenyan village called Kalama.
This summer St. Benedict Parish will offer two more opportunities for them to help their Kenyan neighbors through the parish’s Kalama Project, which grew out of conversations that took place in 2009 between parishioners, Deacon Claude Lester and Father Dominic Munini, a Kalama native.
In early 2009 parishioners at St. Mary Parish in Canandaigua and St. Bridget/St. Joseph Parish in East Bloomfield asked Father Munini, their sacramental minister at the time, to tell them a little bit about his childhood in Kalama. They were shocked to learn that as a young boy, Father Munini had walked two miles each morning to the Athi River, where he climbed down a steep embankment and filled a large bucket with water before climbing back up the embankment, making the trek back home and rushing to school by 7:30 a.m. The water he and other children gathered each day was contaminated and not suitable for drinking, but it was the only water available for miles around, so residents of Kalama used it for watering their animals and washing.
After hearing that story the parishioners of St. Mary and St. Bridget/St. Joseph, which in 2012 merged to form St. Benedict, were moved to take action. In June 2009 they launched their Kalama Project and quickly raised more than $60,000, which was enough to dig a bore-hole well that could provide fresh water to Kalama’s people for the first time in the village’s history. The experience of hiking to fetch water is a major part of the story of Father Munini’s life, but it will not be a part of the life stories of the children growing up in the village today, Father Munini recently told Deacon Claude Lester, director of faith formation and social ministry at St. Benedict.
"That is a story of the past. That is a story of history now," Deacon Lester said.
Since 2009 parishioners have raised more than $165,000 for the Kalama Project, and that money has been used to drill the well, fund high-school and college scholarships, and build both a health clinic and a building used to house preschool and faith-formation classes. Project organizers recently set their sights on a new goal: the construction of a school for children in the first through eighth grades. So far they’ve raised enough money to fund the construction of an administration building and a classroom for first graders, and the goal is to construct one new classroom each year until the school is complete, Deacon Lester said.
"One group of lucky kids will, as they progress forward, always have a new school classroom. There’s a lot of excitement around that," he added.
St. Benedict parishioners will have a chance to support the project this month during the parish’s first-annual Seven Elevenish celebration, which will be held each year on the Sunday closest to July 11, the feast day of St. Benedict, Deacon Lester said. The Seven Elevenish celebration grew out of parishioners’ desire for an event that celebrated the union of St. Mary and St. Bridget/St. Joseph parishes. At Seven Elevenish, which this year will be held July 10 from 11:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. at St. Bridget/St. Joseph, parishioners will enjoy a chicken barbecue and learn more about three of the parish’s outreach efforts. St. Benedict’s Social Ministry Committee will be highlighting the Kalama Project, while the parish’s St. Vincent De Paul Conference will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Canandaigua Churches in Action and the opening of a new CCIA Resource Center. St. Benedict’s Knights of Columbus will be requesting support for the parish’s youth-ministry program.
"As people make their reservations for their chicken, they also will have a place they can make a donation to any one or all three of these outreaches," Deacon Lester said. "It should be just a wonderful kind of informal but informative thing."
There will be another opportunity to support the Kalama Project just one month later, when the parish holds its Third Annual 5K for Kalama on Aug. 13 at Finger Lakes Community College. Erin Hanlon, director of the race, said this fundraiser was inspired by her 2013 mission trip to Kalama with a group of St. Benedict parishioners.
"After we left, I couldn’t just forget about it," Hanlon recalled. "When we left I looked for ways to keep it at the front of people’s minds. Our solidarity shouldn’t end just because we left, and it’s really easy for that to slip away when you’re back in the everyday (routine) of your life."
Same-day registration for the 5K will open at 8 a.m. Aug. 13, and the race will begin at 9 a.m. Top finishers will win prizes, and there will be music and refreshments available after the race, Hanlon said.
"It’s really just a day of fun and friendship and support of a good project," she said.