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St. Cletus, Uganda orphanage partnership continues

 
Michael Masembe couldn’t have said the words “thank you” more times than he did May 9 while visiting St. Cletus Catholic Church and School in Gretna to update parishioners on progress made at the Ugandan orphanage he runs with his wife Juliet.

 
“On this trip, we came to say thank you,” said Michael Masembe, director of Alliance for Child Assist (www.aliance forchildassist.org). “Many things have happened in one year” since the parish has helped the orphanage as part of St. Cletus’ 50th anniversary celebration.
 
Through a monthly second collection during the parish anniversary, approximately $60,000 was sent to the Masembes for improvements, including a water well for the Masembes’ new, three-acre compound. The well is named in memory Sharon McNamara, a parishioner at St. Cletus who championed with parishioners Francis and Cookie Bologna the idea of the orphanage as a parish anniversary project.
 
“It was from faith and prompting that this all came about,” Francis Bologna said. “The Lord is incredible. We at St. Cletus do not understand what we have done simply because we have said to the Lord, ‘yes.’”
 
Masembe said the children at the orphanage initially didn’t know what to think of the clear water, and they were apprehensive to play in it.
 
“I filled a small swimming pool with fresh water and told them to play, but the kids, at first, refused to play,” Masembe said.
 
But, quickly they couldn’t wait for their turn to jump in. Because of the clean water, the kids don’t get as sick. “Going to the hospital is history,” he said.
 
“You really did great and put a smile on their faces,” he told St. Cletus parishioners. “Then we planted trees and gave each child a tree to water twice a day. Things started to grow; grass started to grow. We now tell the children to wash fruit before they eat it. It took them time to get used to doing this. But this is a gift you gave us. We now have showers in the dormitories because you said you wanted to reach out and help.”

Other needs
A safe place to sleep for the children also was a concern at the orphanage. Masembe remembered sleeping under a bridge as an abandoned youth and wanted better for his six biological children and the 54 orphans (ages 4-14) he has taken in. So, St. Cletus’ donations also built two dormitories (one each for girls and boys) and a building with a kitchen, dining hall and office.

“It could not have been done without you,” he said. “We minimized our cost by making our own bricks using soil and water and molds. The children came out to help to be part of the project.”

Masembe showed photos of buildings under construction and the smiling faces of Ugandan children living in the orphanage. He said the happiness in the photos resulting from clean water and a place to sleep and eat was directly attributable to the generosity of St. Cletus.

He showed a photo of an abandoned 8-year-old holding her 2-year-old sister and how they have progressed with love and care.

“She has a bed; she has a blanket and is well fed. She has a smile. Their story has changed,” he said.

He explained how the children used to receive one meal daily and sleep on mats. Due to the intervention of St. Cletus, all 54 children in the orphanage now have beds and eat two meals a day.

“You’ve really done it all,” Masembe said. “Things have started to evolve for the better. Our story has changed. … You have given us a foundation.”

They were also able to buy chickens that lay eggs and two cows that provide milk for the orphanage.

Merline Tauzier chose to use the Christmas money she usually gives her family to buy two cows for the Uganda orphanage. Masembe gave her a scrapbook of photos of the orphanage.

“I’ve never been so overjoyed in my life,” Tauzier said. “The joy kept building up. No amount of money that anyone can pay me would replace the joy I got from doing this.”

Students have chipped in
While in town with Juliet and school administrator Alice Nambasa, Masembe revisited St. Cletus students, and students remembered him.
Throughout the year, students have collected money for the orphanage. School principal Jill Grabert said one student gave his birthday money, while others donated their Vietnamese New Year money. The Gretna students were amazed to learn the orphans didn’t get three meals a day or snacks.

Through personal connections, a laptop computer, printer and projector and sewing machines also were donated to the orphanage to help the school and to teach youth a skill.

Masembe wants to create a self-sustainable entity, so he hopes to buy two or three more cows to milk to sell the excess and build a chicken coop for more chickens who will provide excess eggs.

“We use the resources we have so we don’t have to buy things,” Masembe said.

He encouraged parishioners to come visit the orphanage and enjoy fresh milk and water.

“It is a blessing,” Masembe said. “Because you gave, this is what we have. Our story would not have changed without your help.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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