E3 Africa branching out, changing lives

Fr. Robert Aliunzi, AJ, pastor at St. Andrew Parish in Chandler and founder of E3 Africa, poses with an orphan sponsored by his organization in his native Uganda. (Photo courtesy of E3 Africa)
E3 Africa

E3 Africa serves Educate, Enrich and Empower orphaned children in Uganda.

When Richard Opi was born in Uganda without arms, community natives there advised his parents to kill him. To be born with such an affliction, they said, was a disgrace and surely a bad omen.

“His father stood against the crowd [and] said that God would himself determine Richard’s destiny,” said Joseph Ambayo, executive director of E3 Africa in Uganda.

The organization, co-founded by Fr. Robert Aliunzi, AJ, then pastor at St. James Parish in Glendale, and Rosalie Weller, his then-parishioner, serves to educate, enrich and empower the vulnerable children of Uganda. Hands and hearts in the Diocese of Phoenix reach thousands of miles across the globe to embrace needy students in a developing nation.

A new executive director of the organization’s U.S. branch, Jake Hoffman, was named June 1 to lead the non-profit’s efforts to assist needy orphans in Uganda. Beginning in 2005, E3 Africa has paired U.S. sponsors with these children. For $70 a month, sponsors are matched with a student and receive a photo of him or her. Most of the students in the program have lost one or both parents, so the sponsors play a key role. If $70 per month proves to be too much, there’s an option to co-sponsor for $45 monthly.

Currently, there are 162 children being sponsored. The results are life-changing. In a country where poverty prevents access to basic education, an education is the difference between survival and destitution. Since the program’s inception, 67 students have graduated from vocational school or university. Twenty of the graduations took place last year alone.

Opi, the disabled young man, was sponsored by E3 Africa and said he wouldn’t be who he is today without the organization. He remembers when Fr. Aliunzi visited the students and reminded them to read their Bibles.

“Since then, I have always been praying to God and today God has finally answered me through my diploma course,” Opi said. He is now a youth secretary of persons with disability in Adjumani District, Uganda.

Fr. Aliunzi, who was installed as pastor of St. Andrew Parish in Chandler in February, was himself orphaned at a young age. The youngest of 10 children, his brothers struggled to pay for his education. A bright student, his teachers would hide him in the closet when the headmaster came around to collect tuition. It was the generosity of others that allowed him to acquire an education.

Years later, he became a high school principal and had the responsibility to send away those who couldn’t pay. He didn’t have the heart to do it and resolved to help them by growing vegetables which he would later sell.

E3 Africa was established to continue that vision of educating needy students by pairing them with U.S. sponsors. Though the organization began at St. James, it has spread to other parishes within the Diocese of Phoenix.

Over the years, the group has visited about a dozen parishes in the diocese, seeking to increase sponsorship of needy students. In April, E3 Africa held its second annual golf marathon and raised some $30,000.

Beyond the sponsoring and pairing of students, plans are underway to build St. Thomas Aquinas College, a secondary school in northern Uganda. Thirty acres of land were donated for the project. The first phase of the school will include a multi-purpose room and a medical dispensary.

John Francis, who works with E3 Africa in Uganda, visited Phoenix last fall to thank local sponsors and encourage young people to stand in solidarity with the poor and needy, reaching out to them in charity. “It was an opportunity for us, the beneficiaries, to give testimony of how our lives have changed because of the support from the sponsors and for them to witness the fruits of their hard work,” Francis said.