When Jane Holler and her husband, Daniel Marecki, first visited Africa in 1997, their five-star tented camps were so luxurious "that we had no idea about the poverty that was all around us," she said.
"Everything was like a Disney World kind of safari," Ms. Holler recalled. "We didn’t see local people, just those in the tourist camps."
But that all changed when St. Gabriel Parish in Milford, Conn. established a relationship with St. Brendan Parish in Tanzania and priests began coming to visit their seaside parish.
"I made a point of entertaining them and getting to know them, and as a result, my husband and I have made several visits to Tanzania and Uganda," she said, adding that they slowly were immersed in the impoverished culture, the people and their needs.
The result is Uganda Farmers Inc., a nonprofit the couple started in 2007, that already has raised thousands of dollars for people in Uganda to buy goats and provide water to one village.
"We realized that we could tap into our parish only so much, so we started the nonprofit to help out our friends in Uganda," said Ms. Holler, who shares a law partnership with her husband in Milford.
Now, after a visit this past summer from Father Emmanuel Kakaaga Byaruhanga, rector of a minor seminary with 250 students, the couple is working to raise $26,000 for his villagers in Uganda to drill a well for water.
Father Byaruhanga said his small village of Rwesigiire has no water or electricity. Villagers have to walk two miles each way to the nearest spring to collect water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and watering animals.
Initial plans for the water project, which will benefit 300 people, call for a borehole to be drilled in the center of the village for manually pumped water. If engineers need to go beyond 300 feet, additional funds will go toward the purchase of a generator for pumping water at deeper levels.
Ms. Holler insisted that their fund-raising is well worth the effort.
"We’ve been so blessed to be involved in this project," she said. "Every time we go to visit Africa, the people are so kind and grateful for all the assistance.
"It’s so beautiful to see," she continued. "The people were so thrilled to show us their progress, and get all dressed up to express their respect and thanks. They’re just such kind people, and work together as a community to benefit all.
"It’s a very spiritual, prayerful gathering," she noted. "In fact, every meeting and every trip begins and ends with prayer to thank God, knowing that everything comes from him."
Three years ago, they worked with Holy Cross Father George Muganyizi in Kyembogo to help raise funds to buy 350 goats at $25 each that provide milk for families; drill a well, and purchase land and a tractor for agricultural projects. Now, when she and her husband go to Africa, they opt to stay in the homes of villagers. "There’s no electricity or running water, but it’s not important," said Ms. Holler. "They meet to tell stories, review the homework of their children who have no books, sing together, and pray until it gets dark. It’s just a beautiful, simple time to gather together as a family."
She recalled that during one visit, they spent a week at a parish house going with the priests to remote villages for Mass.
"When the priests arrive, the villagers are dressed and waiting," she said. "Then the music starts and the Mass lasts from three to three-and-a-half hours. It’s just such a joyous occasion."
"Every time we go to Africa, we come back with so much more than we brought," she said. "The rich prayer life, the praising and gratitude to God is so evident. We learn so much from their humility and try to emulate them in our own world where we have so much."
To raise funds for the water project, Uganda Farmers is organizing a 5K race and a golf tournament for the spring, and is seeking sponsors for both events.
People can also contribute by purchasing a "share" in the water project. A tax-deductible donation of $80 will provide water for one person for life and vastly help to improve the quality of life and standard of living in the village, the couple said.
"We’ve been given this opportunity as a conduit to make the world a little smaller and hopefully better by connecting people," she said. "Clearly, it’s the Holy Spirit who has been guiding our lives."
For more information, visit: www.ugandafarmersinc.org
Printed with permission from the Catholic Transcript, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn.