Barb Sieminski
Freelance Writer
October 12, 2016 // Local

Out of Africa

Barb Sieminski
Freelance Writer

By Barb Seiminski

“Every new community we visited had kids wanting to meet us,” said LaMaster, left. “Here, a dear, dear man, CRS staff member Godfrey, tells me that the name of the little girl holding my hand is Hariette.”

It was only one and a half weeks, but it turned into a whole new world — a jam-packed lifetime, as it were — for Fort Wayne resident Laura LaMaster, a Test Center coordinator at Bishop Dwenger High School, who traveled to Uganda last summer.

“In the time that I was gone, not only did I spend time with the Ugandans, who taught and inspired me, but I also underwent a deeply spiritual conversion and was touched by God,” said LaMaster. “I have always admired Catholic Relief Services, and this Sunday — Mission Sunday — the theme is ‘Mercy Changes the World.’ Because of this theme, the Church focuses on our brothers and sisters in need around the world. I’ve been blessed to see first-hand the faith, love and hard work of those in CRS who ‘change the world’ in our name. I will do my part to encourage us to think globally and to remember that ‘Mercy Changes the World.’”

Catholic Relief Services is an outreach organization established by bishops of the United States. The organization is headquartered in Baltimore.

“Bishop Rhoades is on the CRS board of directors, and I share his commitment to helping all of us see ourselves as a part of the big, generous, smart, world-wide Church that is committed to helping our brothers and sisters in need around the world.”

LaMaster went to Uganda with five other teachers from around the country who came from CRS Global High Schools. Her trip was possible because Bishop Dwenger is a platinum Global High School, and CRS takes six teachers every other year from its platinum schools to a destination.

At St. Jude Catholic Church, LaMaster is a Eucharistic minister. She and her husband, John, have been members of the parish for 25 years, and it’s where their service-oriented sons Kevin, 17, and David, 15, also attend.

LaMaster taught theology and was a pastoral minister for 17 years at Dwenger. She took a leave of absence from the school and returned to Dwenger six years ago, where she now helps struggling students in the Resource Department. This year, she opened up a Test Center to assist students who had tests to make up after being absent. She also helps students who have special test accommodations, such as needing extra time or a modified test.

“Being of service has always been a part of my life,” she said. Also a Bible study leader for women at the Allen County Jail, LaMaster volunteered a year in Texas upon earning her social work degree, through a program designed by the bishops in Texas to keep Catholic schools and social service agencies open. She helped open a maternity home for pregnant girls in crisis.

There was a lot of preparation for the Uganda trip, and the flight was nine hours to Brussels and then nine more to Uganda, Africa.

A woman in the Kinyarwanda Savings Internal Lending Community makes her savings contribution. The two men standing in the background are CRS staff members who have trained the leader of the group.

“CRS Uganda has a staff of 55 dedicated people working on eight different projects,” she discovered. “Forty-nine are national staff and six are international staff. They have CRS interventions on problems related to HIV/AIDS, microfinance, water/sanitation, agroenterprise and peace-building. The common language of Uganda is English.”

There are three types of CRS projects: relief work that is done in times of emergencies, development projects in which the needs and strengths of communities are studied before creating a plan for long-term solutions, and building peace and justice. The last one could be peace between tribes, countries or religions.

“I saw a reinstituting vanilla project that involves Ben & Jerry’s, farmer co-ops, agriculture specialists, the Ugandan government and so much more,” said LaMaster. “I saw an agriculture project to help at-risk young women. I saw a Savings and Internal Lending Community project; here, a community of 30 individuals save and lend to each other. I love that CRS doesn’t just drop American money and the American way of doing things into a community. Instead, these plans are respectful of Ugandans; they hire staff with both the skills/degrees and know the community, and they work in partnership with local Catholic churches and local social service agencies.

“What is amazing about all these projects is the thoughtful plan that uses CRS seed money and planning but that the community then takes over. And imagine my surprise when I met a priest and the bishop in Fort Portal, Uganda, who not only knew where Fort Wayne was, but had also been to Fort Wayne.”

Most rural homes were made of mud walls and thatched roofs, or were made of red brick or cement with corrugated iron roofs, she noted. There are public schools but no free schools – if one had money to send a child to school, it was a sign of wealth. All Ugandan women wore modest dresses of colorful fabrics and carried baskets on their heads.

“During Mass, I was overwhelmed by the number of prayers and hymns at Mass that use the word, ‘world.’  Praying ‘Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world’ meant something different, being on the other side of the globe, praying with Catholics in an African school chapel. Praying the divine mercy chaplet, ‘Have mercy on us and on the whole world’ became a powerful prayer of oneness with Ugandans, and really, the whole world.”


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