In Tanzania, I witnessed many eye-opening experiences during my stay with the Sisters of Ulete Parish. The Sisters are involved in many different life-sustaining activities including running an orphanage and a medical dispensary. Despite a constant flow of patients, a visiting doctor was only able to attend to patients for a few months a year. For the remainder of the year, the Sisters treated the patients when no doctor could be found.
On one of my days visiting Tanzania, we took a trip to see an all-girls boarding high school that was in-process of being built. I thought an all-girls school was very progressive for the community and I asked Sister Jane, “Why just girls?” She replied, “If you educate females, then the whole family will become educated.” No truer words have been spoken but that is a subject for another blog.
The Sisters are also involved in supporting local community initiatives. They bake hundreds of little bits of fried dough and then sell them at the local high school to raise funds for numerous causes. These “donuts” are quite delicious and normally sell out daily. The Sisters’ mission is to help people and it shows in their daily activities.
On another day trip, we visited a priests retirement home. The grounds had a nicely landscaped yard complete with beautiful flowers and green grass. The area was surrounded by a huge wooden fence akin to a castle wall and a security guard was positioned at the entrance. Inside, the building was layered with Italian marble and contained a beautiful chapel. Huge water tanks located outside the main door provided running water. Unfortunately, we did not get to meet any of the priests that were living there as there were only two full time inhabitants. The rest of the rooms were empty until guests came to visit. Overall, it was an impressive facility and would be considered luxurious to most Americans.
Of course, we were not in America or any other first world country. This opulent compound was located in rural Tanzania where less than a mile away hundreds of people were living without running water and in poor sanitary conditions. In the United States, it’s easy to take running water for granted and it can be difficult for people living in western nations to understand how precious clean water is when it is so readily available. The contrast between the priests’ retirement home and the surrounding dusty, brown earth was stark. I had trouble reconciling the resources consumed by a handful of people when these valuable, life-saving commodities could be used to help so many more rural villagers.
The mission of Gram Vikas USA is to help bring clean water and sanitary conditions to disadvantaged rural communities. We achieve our vision using the MANTRA model and a large component of that model deals with social equality. My experience in Tanzania reaffirms my belief that all people, regardless of class or status, deserve access to clean running water.