top of page


"Mukama abahe obusinge n'okushemererwa"

"Mukama abahe obusinge n'okushemererwa". Everything is clear, right?

The inscription dominates the entrance of the Franciscan convent of Rushooka and, for two the two of three of you  who do not understand runyankole, it means "may God give you peace and happiness." We are in Rushooka, where Uganda is already becoming Rwanda. Who wants to step by, just has to take a flight to Kampala, then drive for 480km to the southwest, knowing that car slurries are not an investment to underestimate. You will arrive in a village famous for the cultivation of onions, but no, that's not the place. That's Rwahi, a village on the main road. You have to turn right, drive for another four kilometers to the hills, until you get to 1700m, where the onions give way to bananas. That is Rushooka.


It's easy to recognize the monastery, the square building with a small courtyard inside. At the center of the cloister, then the center of the monastery, there is a chapel. The brothers say that there lives the most important among them - Jesus of course - and the phrase has its own poetry. Less important are father Agapitus, the priest of the parish, Brother Francis, chaplain of the schools, Giorgio and Marta, a couple of lay missionaries who left Varese to build in Rushooka the first center for disabled children of the whole Uganda. When you find them- it should not be difficult - please do not react as Renet. Renet is a five year old girl, recently arrived at the center after being forced to live almost exclusively home because of a quadriplegia.

When she arrived, she was quite excited by the novelty though ... as she saw two white men who wanted to welcome her with open arms, she started shouting in her language: "The white men want me to eat, they want to eat myself!". It took two months to become friends but today she should have understood that the flesh of a little child is indigestible.

Matoke is much better. The matoke obviously made from banana, is the typical food of Rushooka, the basis of every diet of southern Uganda.

The local proverb translated into English confirms: "No matoke no life". The greatest secret of Rushooka though is water. First, the it falls from the sky. The rainy season comes twice every year, for the rest of the year people lives in a kind of perpetual summer, with flowering fields, bearable heat during the day and fresh evenings. Then, there's water that arrives from the containers due to a rare water system. The great invention was made on September 5, 2001, the day when access to water has changed the lives of everyone. The Franciscan friars had arrived only six years earlier, driven by the desire to help the poorest ones.

The Rushooka parish was the poorest, the most neglected and remote from the diocese. A Catholic, for a Mass or a confession, had to make dozens of kilometers on foot to the central church, a trip that did not give a great hand to strengthen their faith. Among the inhabitants, only three were listening to the radio, two could read a newspaper and practically nobody knew English. Twenty years later we do not browse to the New York Times and no talk as in literature classes at Cambridge, but Rushooka certainly has made progress.

Education is one of the village problems, but perhaps not the most immediate. Alcohol is definitely first. The brothers estimate that more than 50% of the men living in this area have addiction problems: the day of many begins with tonto, a local brew made of the usual banana, and ends ... with the tonto. In the middle, to vary, even a little 'waragi, the local vodka. Alcohol causes violence against women and children -often eight, ten, even eleven family members  because in the village you can get bored '...- and HIV does not help. Poverty does the rest since the land is not easy to grow, corruption is one of the evils of the entire Uganda. Traditionally men believe women have to deal with the crops so for the friars is not easy to make understand that a division of labors would be welcome.


Franciscan missionaries, among other difficulties, run a parish organized into six main centers and 21 small villages. The territory is of course very extensive and the roads are unpaved, so they travel from village to village to say Mass and follow the schools built near the churches. The helicopter latest model is not supplied, then you go by car, and times get inevitably Africans, that is, between long and very long. A small center receives a couple of visits per year while Rushooka operates a primary school for 1,200 children and 600 secondary pupils. In addition, the sisters of the Congregation of the Daughters of Divine Charity have developed a center where some twenty girls learn the main manual works, a bit 'of English and some health rules. To build something for the future, however, is always rather complicated. A project, when it passes in African hands, is always in danger of being abandoned. Basically it is a matter of cultural habits. It is unlikely that an African has the sense of planning, it is unlikely that an African agrees to pay something to get water, electricity and other public services. However, between progress and difficulties a community has been created and is being developed in the new center for disabled children that Giorgio and Marta are building with Ewe Mama, the non-profit organization founded with some friends in Italy.


Luca Bianchin

bottom of page