Uganda's big-hearted Father Deogratias Ekisa said all three Sunday Masses at Holy Family Catholic Church in Luling on Sunday. When I found out he had nothing scheduled between noon and his 6 p.m Mass, I asked him if he would like to try some alligator at the St. Charles' Rotary Club’s Alligator Festival.
He said that he would, so my husband, Allen, and I picked him up after the 11 a.m. Mass, and off we went. I explained to Father Deo that money raised at the festival enabled the Rotary to provide scholarships, helping financially-challenged young people to pay for their college education. I explained that club members used to "do it all," cooking and serving the alligator and taking care of all the other chores and duties that are required to make a charity event successful.
But as the festival began to attract bigger and bigger crowds, I told him, we were able as a group to become more “big business” about it and simply earn a percentage by having other vendors share in the work.
Father Deo - whose Latin name means “Thanks be to God” - was himself in town to ask for monetary help for his dirt-poor Ugandan community.
He explained that he had been a priest for eight years and had studied for his priesthood in New Orleans at Notre Dame. He also noted that he, as a child in Uganda, had been able to go to school because some kind soul had donated $25 a month to help him do so through one of the Christian children's-type programs.
He explained that a little money goes a long way in Uganda where people live much more simply than we do here in the United States. Most have no electricity and no transportation to speak of.
They eat mostly beans and vegetables and rice and not much meat because vegetables and grains are easier and cheaper to produce and can feed more people. I shared with him about Father Mike in Grand Isle. Originally from North Korea, he, too, knew deprivation as a child, living at times on hard grains and being close to malnutrition.
Their mothers - Father Mike’s and Father Deo’s - each had to fend for themselves in third world countries with four children to raise and absent fathers.
We are not speaking here about poverty like doing without a car or extra TV set.
We are talking about not having electricity or fresh water to drink or any transportation except by foot. (After meeting Father Mike, my daughter Amy pointed out that hardship probably had a lot to do with helping him become such a passionate priest, and I think she was right.)
At his rectory in Uganda, Father Deo squeezes the most out of every penny in a land where a penny means a lot.
To keep the cost of electricity to a minimum - about $20 a month - so that he'll have more money to help children, he won’t even his staff boil water or cook on a stove, instructing them instead to build a fire with wood.
Father Deo rides an inexpensive, fuel-efficient motor scooter as his main transportation. He has the use of a car as needed, but avoids it whenever possible because it costs more to run. His mother, who earns $85 a month as a teacher, doesn't even have electricity in her home because it would cost $2000 to put in the wiring.
The priest believes the key to improving the lives of his people is education, but he points out that many children must walk five or more miles to get to a school. And, tragically, as Father Deo points out, many of these children are homeless.
To survive, they hang around the markets hoping to carry things for people for tips. The priest says drugs are not a problem in Uganda. Also, AIDS is less of a threat than in years past because more people are being educated.
I explained to Father Deo how, after it was shown that money people had donated for food relief had been diverted to terrorists instead, Americans are afraid to contribute "just anywhere." The priest has been in town appealing for any monetary help he can get, and I think you can see that money donated to him and his work is not going to be diverted or wasted.
And even a little will go a long way.
Please consider helping to fund a school or help pay for a bicycle that will enable a needy child get to his classes through this priest with the beautiful name of "Thanks be to God." You can send any donation to Father Deo c/o of Rev. John B. Kauta, Box 490, Bedford Village, NY 10506. Or you can contact me, Colette Lottinger, at the St. Charles Herald-Guide, firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Father Deogratias Ekisa with Rotary President Kirsti Brocato at the Alligator Festival.|