Friends and supporters of E3 Africa, an organization that helps students in Uganda obtain an education, listened in rapt attention at a breakfast Oct. 1 as Fr. Robert Aliunzi, AJ, told of the struggles of being orphaned at age 6.
The youngest of 10 children, Fr. Aliunzi said his teenage brother married and took over leadership of the family. Education for the future priest was a top concern.
In Uganda, families must pay tuition for high school education. The country is still experiencing the effects of decades of AIDS, inter-tribal warfare, the terror tactics of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army and the former brutal dictatorship of Idi Amin. Educational prospects in Uganda remain grim; few can afford the school fees and are doomed to a life of hardship.
Many students — as Fr. Aliunzi experienced — are often sent home when it is discovered they have not paid tuition. “Being small can actually be a good thing,” Fr. Aliunzi quipped. He sometimes resorted to hiding under a desk when the headmaster came checking. A bright student, teachers were apt to help him go undetected.
After some soul-searching, the family decided to slaughter one of their cows to pay Fr. Aliunzi’s tuition. Later, a Spanish priest took pity on him and paid the fees for his second year of minor seminary.
After his ordination to the priesthood, he led a high school for Sudanese refugees, most of whom couldn’t pay tuition. Fr. Aliunzi had the unfortunate task of having to send home non-paying students and wound up sponsoring some of them himself.
Shortly after becoming pastor of St. James in Glendale in 2005, parishioner Rosalie Weller approached him asking how she could show God her gratitude for a favor granted. Eventually, the two co-founded EENU — Efforts to Educate the Needy Children of Uganda. The organization has since been renamed E3 Africa.
Rebranded to showcase the objectives of the non-profit, “Educate, Enrich, Empower,” E3 Africa currently has sponsors for 119 students in Uganda. Another 200 are on a waiting list.
Some 27 students have already graduated with help from E3 Africa and 24 are gainfully employed. “I am completely humbled by the progress coming out of this organization,” Fr. Aliunzi told the crowd. “I can see myself through these kids. They didn’t have any hope and now they are bringing hope to the community.”
An elder from Fr. Aliunzi’s village donated 29 acres to E3 Africa and the organization plans to eventually build a school. The goal, Fr. Aliunzi said, is to build a school where children from various tribes will be educated together and learn to live without conflict.
Betsy Tidwell, executive director of E3 Africa, said one donor agreed to match donations up to $10,000 for any funds raised at the breakfast — a total they managed to reach.
Educate, Enrich, Empower Africa (E3 Africa) is a local effort to help children in Uganda.
Info: www.E3-Africa.org, (602) 757-4565.