Leaving Kampala’s chaotic streets and the usual bustle of cars and moto taxis, brick houses give way to thatched huts and then brambles. Dwarf trees and giant grasses flank the road, stretching to a horizon broken by small hills. On both sides of the tarmac, mud huts are clustered together while wisps of smoke drift through thatched roofs from cooking fires. Women walk along the verges of the road with baskets and water jars on their heads followed by bare foot children that carry their younger siblings on their backs. Drive in the tarmac until it turns to dirt and after 75Km, you arrive in Luweero district, one of the most impoverished areas in Uganda.
Life is tough in Luweero. Unemployment in the district is as high as 80% and most people cannot ensure a daily meal. Children are forced to drop out of school because their parents fail to pay school fees. Many babies and toddlers die before the age of five from preventable diseases as there is no clean water and no adequate health services.
Yet, in this forgotten place of Africa, a man has dedicated his life to create a better future for hundreds of poor children. Father Antonios Mutyaba, together with his wife Charitini, and with the support of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Kampala, is working hard to provide a chance in life for the children in Luweero. Although Father Antonios was born in Uganda, he was adopted in 1980 by a Greek family and moved to a small village in Crete. He first studied Agronomy at the University of Athens but his dream in life was to become a priest. He joined the Seminary of St. Matthew in Chania, where he was ordained a priest with the blessing of His Eminence Amphilochius. In Greece he met his wife Charitini, also Ugandan but born and raised in Greece, and in 2004, together with their 4 children, they decided to return to Uganda. The family settled in Wakiso, a small town of 50.000 people in the outskirts of Kampala.
For the last five years Father Antonios gets up at 5 o clock in the morning to visit the destitute villages in Luweero. Thanks to private donations from Greece, he is managing 3 boarding schools that provide education, medical care, food and shelter to more than 1200 poor and orphaned children, instilling hope and dignity to their lives. In this difficult task, he has the help of Charitini, who on her turn, is trying to support the families of the children by teaching their mothers and sisters sewing and weaving in order to generate a small income for their communities.
In the schools of Aghios Antonios, Aghios Demetrios and Aghia Triada, children dressed in bright pink and blue uniforms welcome you with a big smile. They are either orphans or come from extremely poor families where even daily food was a luxury. For those children, the work of Father Antonios is their only chance for a better life. Yet, their future is still far from being reassured. The financial crisis has hit Uganda, driving the already vulnerable population to the extreme. At the same time it has also hit Greece very hard, bringing the private donations to the schools to a halt. The food crisis, the skyrocketing prices in all basic commodities and the cost of fuel and transportation have impacted the functioning of the schools.
Father Antonios struggles hard to provide food for the children and ensure their education. He had to restrict the daily food to beans and corn porridge, as this was the only way to offer at least 2 meals per day for the children. He is trying to organize a small farm hoping to purchase some chickens and a few cows so he can provide eggs and milk at the schools. He also hopes that he will soon find the necessary money to drill a bore hole so that the community and the schools can have access to clean water.
It takes less than 20 dollars a month to send a child to school and ensure access to health care, books, clothes and a daily meal. All those things that in our western world we take for granted, in Uganda is a luxury that very few people can afford. In a country where extreme poverty affects more than half of the population and where children die from preventable diseases and lack of clean water, the work of Father Antonios is just a drop in the ocean. Even if Uganda seems to be too far from our western life style, we have a chance to make compassion and solidarity prevail. At the end of the day what actually matters is not what we have, but what we give…