Father Winfried Ngonyani, a priest from East Africa, is visiting Australia a second time to thank people for their help in the past, and to continue further developing his parish in central Tanzania.
During an earlier visit in 1999, he raised money and obtained much-needed food and medical supplies for the people in his town of Mpanga, returning home with four container loads of essential items. These proved a great help to the people of his region, oppressed as they are by poverty and drought.
Based in the Morogoro region of central Tanzania, about 600 kilometres from the capital Dar es Salaam, Fr Winfried described to me the living conditions of the people in his region and in Africa generally: "Africa is hard- pressed by poverty and war. Wars continue to rage in Ethiopea and the Republic of Congo, bringing death and destruction to many thousands of people."
It is estimated, he said, "that more than half of Africa's 600 million people live on less than 65 US cents a day." According to Fr Winfried, the supposed benefits of economic globalisation were not helping Africans: "In today's globalised economy, only South Africa seems able to generate regular export income." Elsewhere, he said, "the people suffer from great poverty and the governments are often too poor themselves to help the people in need. The Church plays a vital role, therefore, particularly in rural areas, in the provision of schools and health care, as well as providing for the spiritual needs of the people."
AIDS is also a great problem in Tanzania, with many thousands of people infected with the virus. "The Church and the state are often at loggerheads as to what to do about the AIDS problem," he said, "with the state under pressure from the UN and other Western agencies to promote condom use, while the Church continues to emphasise the need for fidelity and trust in marriage."
Despite the hard lives his people lead, Fr Winfried said that they remain "prayerful and loyal to the Church." Indeed, without the Church, he claimed, certain essential services would not even exist. For example, the Church runs a medical dispensary - the nearest hospital being hundreds of kilometres away - which provides the people with basic medical care.
Around 60 per cent of the people of Fr Winfied's town are Catholic. Of the remainder, about 10 per cent are Muslim, the rest, Christians from other denominations or animists. Most people are farmers, growing rice, corn, maize and sweet potatoes. Few homes have electricity. For, while a hydroelectric plant is situated nearby, most people are too poor to afford it in their homes.
Fr Winfried entertains hopes of a better life for his people. With the money donated by so many kind people after his last visit to Australia, a "minor miracle" has occurred, he says. The Church was able to fund the construction of a pipeline from the nearest river to a tank in Mpanga able to hold around 5000 litres, providing the people of the town with fresh water. "The locals now have access to water for their own personal hygiene, cooking and washing their clothes," he said.
The central region of Tanzania has suffered from drought for some years now. Most of the wells are dry and the people are on the edge of starvation. The nearby river has not dried up, but remains inaccesable to the locals because of crocodiles which have killed many people over the last few years.
According to Fr Winfied, "The Bishop and officials from the Tanzanian Government Department of Water and Mineral Resources have visited the village. They are full of praise for what has been achieved."
However, the present storage tank of 5000 litres, he said, is "too small for the 6000 people in the town and the expenses of running a diesel pump are very high." What is needed is one to contain 10,000 litres and a 6 kilometre pipeline over the nearby mountain range: "Both Government officials and my Bishop have suggested building a catchment dam. The water could then be piped to the village by gravity flow and we would not have to worry about the cost of the diesel pump."
The estimated cost of constructing a concrete dam on the river, the tank and pipeline is A$50,000. It is hoped Fr Winfried's present visit to Australia will help raise some of this.
Another of Fr Winfried's ambitions is to set up a Dress Making Co- operative Workshop for the local women - "The women are very keen to make clothes for themselves and their children." For this, he says, "I would really appreciate a few second-hand sewing machines and fabric to start the project."
Apart from raising money, Fr Winfried hopes to return to Mpanga (at the end of March) with other essential items, particularly, "used light clothing, second-hand footwear, foodstuffs, medical equipment (beds, mattresses, wheel chairs, walking frames, etc) and basic school materials, such as exercise books, pens and pencils.
Father Winfried concluded: "I ask that you pray for me over these next few weeks that the Lord will provide me with friends who can advise me on how to achieve some of what I have mentioned to you."
Donations of foodstuffs, assorted essential items and machinery can be made c/-St Paul's Parish, 562 Sydney Rd, Coburg, Vic, 3058. Cash donations can be made to Australian Salesian Mission Overseas Aid Fund, PO Box 80, Oakleigh, Vic, 3166.
For further information, contact Br Michael Lynch on (03) 9386 6302.