Several dozen parishioners and friends of the New Paltz Reformed Church gathered last Friday evening in the cozy Fireside Room of the Wullschleger Education Building on Huguenot Street for a slide presentation on the mission trip to Uganda that the Church sponsored in late October and early November of 2018. The master of ceremonies was Glenn Phillips, who initiated the church’s involvement with the AIDS Orphan Education Trust in Uganda (AOET) after becoming the sponsor of an orphaned third-grader named Stella, now a university graduate. The trip last fall was Phillips’ fourth visit to the HIV-ravaged country.
Seven other people went with him this time, among them Ulster Publishing’s own star photographer Lauren Thomas, so much of what was shown on the projection screen was art as well as documentary. Resplendent in a navy-and-orange batik jacket that Stella had arranged to have custom-made for her “Dad” as a birthday gift, Phillips gave the audience a guided tour through the Ugandan city of Jinja, where the group stayed in a compound of yurts, and the nearby village of Bugembe. The visitors spent time working with orphans at the primary and secondary schools and a medical clinic that church members’ donations help to support, conducting interviews with 185 children as part of the monitoring process overseen by the local child welfare office. The group also conducted medical outreach visits to sugarcane farms on the outskirts of the town, where residents have minimal other access to healthcare.
Each mission trip includes a stint of volunteer labor, usually in constructing or renovating a building to expand one of the schools, using donations from parishioners to purchase materials and tools. This time the group scraped off mold from the monsoon rains and painted the interior of a new building that will serve as a dormitory for students in the seventh level of primary school, who are expected to live on-premises in order to study intensively for the national examinations that will determine whether or not their education will continue. “We painted it a beautiful orange,” Phillips said. Another current effort is the construction of an additional wing to the secondary school, which is “very overcrowded. It was supposed to house 650, and now there are 900 students.” A ground floor has been completed, with additional stories to be added on later.
Once the mission work was done, which included a group of sixth-graders putting on a play under the direction of Nancy Owen, most of the visitors went on a boat trip on Lake Victoria, a whitewater rafting trip on the headwaters of the White Nile and a safari to Murchison Falls and a rhinoceros sanctuary. They were also invited to be among more than 500 people in attendance at the wedding of a local chief. All provided rich visual material for the slideshow.
The next expedition to Jinja and Bugembe is scheduled for July of 2021. The church group is planning this trip during the summer so that youths aged 14 and up can participate when US schools are not in session, Phillips explained. All travelers cover their own expenses, and need not be parishioners to join the group. Anyone interested in going along on a future Uganda mission can request more information from the Reformed Church website at www.reformedchurchofnewpaltz.org/contact-us.html or by calling (845) 255-6340.
Another way to support the relief work in Uganda is by signing up to sponsor an orphan. A regular donation of $40 per month covers school fees, a uniform, one meal a day and medical care for one student, who would not otherwise be able to attend the school. The New Paltz church alone has sponsored 54 kids, Phillips said, and profiles of three more in need of sponsorship were being circulated at Friday’s presentation. By the evening’s end, at least one of them had found a sponsor. To learn more about AOET’s programs, visit www.aoetusa.org.