I think nothing of jumping in my car and driving to the store. Or sending my kids to school. Or getting on the Internet. Or visiting Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., or Columbus for that matter.
But for my friend Fr. Jino Mwaka, things are different. He grew up in Gulu, a city in Northern Uganda, about 200 miles away from Kampala, the capital. For 20 years, the L.R.A (the Lord's Resistance Army) led by Joseph Kony devastated members of the Acholi Tribe, of Northern Uganda.
That is a far cry from my life. A life I take for granted every day.
Fr. Jino grew up with 12 siblings. He went to high school and became a Catholic priest. When the opportunity arose to complete his master's degree at Walsh College in Canton, Fr. Jino flew to a place he had never been and started over. A few years later, with a newly-completed MBA, he again was offered an opportunity to study for his doctorate at Kent State University. He moved from Canton to the rectory at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Aurora.
That's where we met. It was a sunny afternoon and I was volunteering at my daughter's preschool. At the time, the school was located in the original Our Lady church building. I was watching the kids play on the playground when Fr. Jino walked from the church to the rectory. We had met a few times after Mass, and he stopped to chat. It was almost Easter and I asked him what his plans were. When he said he didn't have any plans, I invited him to have Easter dinner with us.
The years all blend together now, and he became a regular member of my family. My kids call him Uncle Fr. Jino. He celebrated Christmas and birthdays with us, joined us for family dinners and even flew back to the United States to be the priest who married my brother and sister-in-law. And when he graduated from Kent State in 2010 with his doctorate, we were happy to be in the audience watching him walk across the stage.
While he was here studying and saying Mass and visiting friends, his thoughts were always on a place 7,000 miles away. And in 2011 he flew home and hit the ground running.
During the two decades of war, the Ugandan government tried to help protect the people in Northern Uganda by setting up camps. Hundreds of small huts were built to house thousands of people in a very small area. There, the Acholi people met more trouble -- disease, malnutrition, depression and alcoholism.
According to the GuluHelp Foundation -- a foundation Fr. Jino helped to set up -- violence in Northern Uganda has ceased since about 2007. The Acholi people have begun to move from the camps back to their homes. But the transition has been difficult and this is where Fr. Jino has focused his efforts.
He and the Archdiocese of Gulu want social workers in the region to have the skills needed to successfully help those traumatized by war. They are working to establish the University of the Sacred Heart, a place that will offer the necessary training. Its mission: to contribute to personal and social healing, growth and holistic development of Uganda and the world community through provision of quality education, training, research and community service.
A major breakthrough came in December 2012 when the Uganda National Council for Higher Education granted the University official permission to move forward -- get a building, set up staff and get funds. Since then, USH board members have been working hard to get the project up and running. They have had visitors from Walsh College and John Carroll University and the official launch of a fundraising campaign began Aug. 24 in Gulu. They hope to open their doors to the first students next year.
I have a new perspective on things since meeting Fr. Jino and so does my family, although they are more reluctant. We were shopping for school supplies the other day when my daughter found a pair of tennis shoes she desperately wanted. I couldn't buy them. Her shoes from last year still fit and were in good condition. I look at the piles of clothes we have and the cars and food and wonder why things in the world are so different.
Fr. Jino would be really mad if he knew I was writing this.
He is passionate about the University of the Sacred Heart, but never accepts praise for what has been accomplished. He simply looks ahead to what needs to be done next.
For more information on the University of the Sacred Heart and the GuluHelp Foundation, visit cushg.org, guluhelp.wordpress.com or facebook/GuluHelp.