Jack Skvorak accompanied his wife, Mary, on a business trip to Tanzania in Africa in early 2010 for Mary’s work at Nazareth College in Pittsford. Mary was vetting locations abroad where Nazareth education students were planning to teach as part of their training.
While in Tanzania, the Walworth couple got an up-close look at the country’s poverty. Jack Skvorak said he was struck by the lack of running water, the poor condition of its roads and other infrastructure, the high inflation that caused prices to spike and the hunger among its children.
He returned from the trip with hundreds of slides and a mission to create a partnership at his parish, St. Joseph in Penfield, to benefit Tanzania.
Though it is still new, St. Joseph’s Usambara Sisters Partnership has already provided more than $10,000 of support and scholarships to an order of women religious who run a network of schools in Tanzania, including high schools, a junior college, an elementary school and a preschool. They also run a health clinic that provides basic health-care services.
Some of the Sisters of Usambara have studied at Nazareth College, thanks to connections forged by Benedictine Father Damian Milliken, an Elmira native. Father Milliken, a missionary in Tanzania for more than 50 years, has established several schools now staffed by the Usambara Sisters as well as churches and clinics. He will speak about his experiences at Masses May 5 and 6 at the Penfield parish.
In addition to financial support, St. Joseph’s Usambara Sisters Partnership has already linked up St. Joseph’s school with an elementary school in Tanzania and encouraged parish youths to write to their counterparts in Tanzania to build relationships. The goal, Skvorak said, is to encourage connections that go beyond fundraising.
He noted that less than 5 percent of high-school-aged girls in Tanzania receive a secondary education.
"The girls are treated so much worse than the boys," he said. "If there is any need at home, the girls don’t go to school. They stay home to take care of their brothers and sisters. There’s no chance for them to get out of poverty and to get out of the horrible way they are treated in the country. We feel that if the kids can get an education, they’ve got a chance."
It costs $900 for a girl to go to high school in Tanzania, and that sum includes her room and board and basic health care, he said.
"So little — used well — can do so much over there," Skvorak said.
Several members of St. Joseph’s Usambara Sisters Partnership will travel to Tanzania to see needs firsthand Aug. 28 to Sept. 12.
"Hopefully, when we get back, we will be able to tell people about our trip just like Jack and Mary have," said Lori Mahar, one of the partnership members who will be going on the trip in August.
The group will tour several schools started by Father Milliken and staffed by Usambara sisters to see the programs in action and identify additional needs that the programs have. Additionally, the group hopes to bring at least one suitcase of supplies per person. The itinerary also will include a tour of a wildlife refuge.
Mahar noted that Father Jim Schwartz, St. Joseph’s pastor, has been instrumental in helping mobilize parish support of the new ministry.
"He’s been helpful getting the parish on board and having it become an ongoing ministry," she said.
Though the needs are great, so is the joy of the people of Tanzania, Skvorak noted.
"You can’t help but to be aware of the poverty, and yet the children are happy," he said. "It’s hard for us to imagine how they can be that happy."
Mahar said hearing about that happiness is one of the things that impressed her during Skvorak’s presentations about his trip.
"It kind of makes you stop and think about what is important," Mahar said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Next month, look for an article about a local parish that has had a partnership with a Tanzania parish for more than two decades.