Northern Uganda had been decimated by war and insurrection for many of the years since its independence from Britain in 1961. Now relatively secure, former residents are beginning to return, and their medical needs are tremendous. This June, an Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) Health Care Team was sent to Uganda to address the persistent needs that exist there.
Malaria is a scourge in East Africa, and intestinal worms are pandemic. Arriving in Kampala and first working out of Gulu and then moving to Lira, the team treated over 3,800 patients in nine rural clinics. The first day saw a new record for a one-day patient count when over 700 people were examined and treated. The Team pharmacy worked until 8:30 pm filling prescriptions by the light of a kerosene lantern.
The team, led by Fr. Joseph Ciarciaglino, utilized two doctors, one nurse practitioner, three RNs, one physical therapist, and one health care student to bring medical services to many who had not had any care since last year’s OCMC Team treated them. These dedicated Orthodox medical professionals are a credit to themselves and to the Orthodox Church. The love and care with which they served God’s children was a visible sign of the Gospel message of love of neighbor.
In addition to over $9,200 worth of medical supplies, the Team brought liturgical books and two sets of vestments for the priests. A set of icons, an icon cross for St. Basil Orthodox Church in Gulu, over 3,000 paper icons, and a set of church banners were also gifted by the Team. Financial contributions were made toward a day school and other needs as they arose.
On one occasion, a father brought his infant daughter to the Team. The child’s mother had died the day before and, as one of the priests observed, the child’s life was in danger. Milk is very expensive for the people of northern Uganda, the equivalent of about 50 cents US per liter; so the Team gave the priest enough money to support the child until she could be fed solid food. (To God belongs the glory!)
Team members were humbled to be in the presence of holy men such as the Ugandan priests that they worked with. “These men are truly ‘fathers’,” one Team member noted, “not only to their parishioners but to all in need in their areas. They try to provide for the people’s temporal as well as spiritual needs.” In Uganda, many of the priests take from their own pockets to help those most in need, and no one is ever asked if they are Orthodox. “Each person is treated as the child of God that they are. All of this work is done with a smile and a joyful heart.”
Numerous Team members shared that the people of northern Uganda were a great joy to be with. Despite their poverty, they always insisted on feeding the Team lunch as a token of their appreciation. The spiritual highlight of the trip for the Team was Sunday Divine Liturgy celebrated in a mud walled, thatched roof church. The people sang with great joy and enthusiasm. Fr. Joseph delivered the sermon through a translator and delighted the congregation by blessing them in their own language.
Fr. Joseph was accepted as an altar brother and treated with love and kindness by the priests and by the people. He recalls, “Their celebration of the Divine Liturgy was done with awe and with care for the Holy Mystery. It was a great joy to concelebrate with them in a church that had mud walls and a thatched roof. The greatest cathedral never had a more joyful, reverential, and well-sung Liturgy.”