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Comboni Missionaries bring hope to Kabingo

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September 26, 2011

By Jennifer Hogan Redmond

ST. FRANCIS DE SALES DEANERY — When Dr. Dallas “Buzz” and Melissa Auvil embarked on their first medical mission trip to Kabingo, Uganda, in 2010, they thought they were organized. “But we were bombarded with hundreds of people every day,” at the rural clinic and dispensary, Buzz Auvil explained.


The medical, educational and social needs of the community were overwhelming. The Auvils, members of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, returned to their Anderson Township home to devise a more extensive plan for subsequent missions. Treating disease, fostering education and providing economic opportunity for the village’s poverty-stricken residents became the focus of the five-year plan.


“In the end, we want them to be self-sustaining,” said Auvil.


The Auvils and their team strongly believe that Kabingo will see success. “There’s a real chance to make a difference here,” explained Melissa Auvil, largely because a network of connections has already been established by Comboni missionary and Kabingo native Father Richard Kyanhaaga, who now works with the Comboni Missions in Cairo. The couple worked with Father Kyanhaaga through the Comboni Mission Center and Provincial Offices in Cincinnati to establish a series of project goals.


Hope for Kabingo’s second mission team returned home July 15, after treating 1,100 patients, hanging more than 100 mosquito nets in homes and a school, establishing a bee hive business with microloan funds, digging wells and providing health and general education to students and residents.


Because the primary goal of the mission is medical (malaria and diseases from parasites are widespread), the Auvils found it challenging to attract volunteers with appropriate experience for their team. “We were worried,” Melissa Auvil said. 


The group didn’t come together as they envisioned, she admitted, but “we put it in God’s hands.”


In the end, “God just brings them,” she said of the group from Greater Cincinnati, Virginia and Cleveland. This year’s 18-member team was comprised of individuals from age 16 to 75 years old, each with a unique set of skills to assist the struggling people.
While in Kabingo, “we used every strength and stretched every skill,” Melissa Auvil said.


Nancy Connor, a hair stylist from Erlanger, Ky., volunteered at the urging of a friend and fellow missionary. The Kabingo mission trip was a first for her. “I went in blind,” she admitted. “I don’t even camp. I wondered, ‘what have I done?’”  Working with a translator, she did basic eye exams for villagers and distributed donated eye glasses.


“I have never met more gracious and grateful people in my life,” she said of Kabingo’s residents. Baskets of fruits and vegetables were common thank-you gifts from a people “who would give you everything and yet they had nothing,” said Connor.


Malaria, parasite-infested drinking water and lack of education are just a few of the challenges faced by the people of Kabingo and the issues tackled daily in the clinic and dispensary the missionaries staffed. Approximately 170 patients a day are treated at the clinic. Between visits from the Comboni team, the dispensary is staffed by two local nurses and a lab technician, but supplies and specialized expertise come only with the group’s annual visit.


“Every day is a long, hard day for these people” said Melissa Auvil. Arthritis and back pain are widespread, especially among women. Hours toiling over laundry and cooking pots result in chronic pain. She shared the story of an elderly man who spends his days digging in the fields. “If I dig less, I starve,” he responded when advised to ease his activities.


“Work is not optional,” she stated, noting that every day is about survival.


Since life in rural Uganda revolves around the search for food and water, collaborative work is neither a cultural focus nor the norm in the region. John Sullivan, a volunteer from Anderson Township used his business skills to organize a microloan project, enabling Kabingo residents to start a cooperative bee hive business. This year’s trip was his second to Kabingo and he plans to return, noting exponential progress between 2010 and 2011. Whether he was helping to establish a business endeavor or hanging mosquito netting in the school dormitory, the villagers impressed him with their energy, drive and willingness to learn. “This kindles in you that passion to want to help them,” he said.


“We can treat ringworm and malaria, and provide 90 days worth of vitamins, but after 90 days, the people are back where they started,” Sullivan said.


Because Hope for Kabingo projects are small, grassroots projects, dependent upon trust and relationships established over time, he sees great promise in a mission model that teaches people to help themselves and provides them with the impetus to do so. In 2010 the village had no single source of clean drinking water. Today, nine wells provide safe water to the village and surrounding areas.


“This is the future of Catholicism, of Christianity, of Uganda,” said Sullivan. “There really is, indeed, hope for Kabingo.”


After their 2011 mission trip to Kabingo, the Auvils returned to their duties as a psychiatrist and a social worker at Good Samaritan Hosptial, and have begun planning their 2012 return to the village. The Comboni medical mission team is already in place and another goal set: to establish student sponsors and finish building the primary school, a $200,000 project which will be completed in small pieces as money becomes available.


The group relies on donations for funding, and on area school students for packing supplies (Bishop Brossart High School in Alexandria, Ky., is a consistent supporter). Because the Comboni Mission Center provides the framework for the mission trip, 100 percent of the funds donated go to the projects. Read more about Hope for Kabingo at www.Hopeforkabingo.org.  


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