By Christopher Martin
On the morning of New Year’s Day 2017, as most people were still sleeping in, Dr. Peter Garrity of the Division of Business and I headed to JFK International Airport ready to embark on our second trip in six months to Masese, Uganda. There were two purposes of our trip: we were going to work at H.E.L.P. Primary School, which is a free school that Dr. Garrity and his wife Delia helped start seven years ago, and finalize our microfinance nonprofit project. With the support of the International Education office and the Molloy Honors Program, I have been lucky enough create a project that I am deeply passionate about and to visit a country that I have learned to love so much.
The village of Masese is an impoverished village located directly east of the Nile River and right on Lake Victoria. Masese has a population of 30,000 people who are mostly refugees displaced from South Sudan, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, as well as from the Lord’s Resistance Army who terrorized Northern Uganda.
During our time in Masese, I had the opportunity to help paint the wall around the school with the help of some of the students. I taught the students how to paint, and, while we were painting, we got caught up in a dust devil (which is similar to a small tornado). At the end of the day, it was incredibly rewarding to see the new vibrant wall that we painted together.
The microfinance project that Dr. Garrity and I have founded will give small business loans to women in Masese. These loans will help women start businesses and give them the chance to help themselves climb out of severe poverty. This is a long-term, sustainable approach, and our goal is to empower women in our village.
I walked around the village and met many of the people who were loan applicants. Walking through Masese was truly a humbling experience, and it made me appreciate how fortunate I am to live on Long Island. The village is comprised of piles of garbage that animals eat from and children play in. I noticed the large number of children who do not attend school. It is quite difficult to explain what this experience is like because, although the United States has areas of the less fortunate and poor, we have absolutely nothing that compares to this kind of abject poverty.
After my walk through Masese, I only had one thought in my mind: There is a solution to this. Under the harsh exterior of Masese, there is this strong level of beauty that is unmatched. Ugandans are the most selfless, positive, hopeful, and generous people I have ever met in my life, and their devotion to God is like no other. My interactions with the people of Masese have given me the drive to do my best to help them receive a chance to climb out of extreme poverty. I would also like to bring my experience in Uganda back to Molloy and get more students involved in our project. I am working towards starting a new club at Molloy called the Molloy-Masese Partnership that will work on the microfinance project, as well as make students aware about other cultures in developing nations. I am truly grateful for the opportunities that Molloy has given me and am optimistic for the future of Masese.