by Fr. Joe Nassal, C.PP.S., Provincial Director
As Precious Blood Father Vincent Bocelli told the C.PP.S. Major Superiors about the founding of the Village of Hope in Dodoma, Tanzania, he referenced an old story that inspired him and Sister Rosaria, an Adorer of the Blood of Christ, to begin a project that seemed impossible. The familiar parable concerns an old man who was walking along a deserted beach as the sun was about to set. In the gathering dusk, he
saw a young boy who kept picking something up from the beach and throwing it into the water. As he drew closer to the boy, the old man saw he was picking up starfish that had washed up on the beach. One by one, the boy picked up a starfish and hurled it back into the ocean.
“What are you doing?” the old man asked the boy.
“I’m throwing these starfish back into the sea,” the boy said, “Or else they will die.”
Looking at the beach that was covered with starfish, the old man said, “Why are you doing this? There must be more than a thousand starfish on this beach. You can’t save them all!”
The boy frowned and then bent down to pick up another starfish. “Maybe not,” the boy said and then smiled, “But I can save this one.” And he threw the starfish into the sea.
This is the vision that has guided the Village of Hope since its founding in 2002. They started with a few children suffering not only with hiv but also with the stigma of being born with the disease. Their parents abandoned them because of the stigma surrounding hiv and aids. Father Vincenzo and Sister Rosaria could not save all the children but they prepared a place to take care of a few who were being abandoned and left for dead. But soon the few became many. And gradually as others joined them in this village called hope, the many became even more.
They called this orphanage the Village of Hope because as Father Vincenzo told us, “There was no hope for these children.” Now there is hope. Because of advances in antiviral medicine, these children that no one wanted began to grow and regain their strength and health. So they started a school for them and later added a high school. Now some of the children, who were the first to be saved when the Village of Hope started, are returning to serve as volunteers. The first graduates have gone on to earn nursing degrees and are returning to care for the next generation of children.
In addition to the orphanage, elementary and high school, in the twelve years since it started, this village has grown to include housing for parents who serve as volunteers to raise the children who have been abandoned, a maternity clinic and another clinic for those living with hiv. Father Vincenzo and Sister Rosaria were already involved in other ministries when the Village of Hope began, but they saw this enormous, incredible need and acted upon the vision of hope they held in their hearts. They didn’t wait until they got approval or funding or had all the blueprints in place. They built the village on the hope that was etched upon their hearts. They are the first to tell you it was God and the people of Dodoma that built the Village of Hope.
This is what people of hope do: they look the face of aids in the eye—the eyes of so many children dying because of fear and neglect—and they do not blink or turn away. Their hearts break and their minds race as they worry about funding or keeping staff or how to best screen volunteers, but their souls are wide awake because they know it is God’s vision. They know the dream is God’s dream. They work to keep the dream, the vision, alive. They act on it.
I also saw this vision of hope at work in the village of Chibumagwa where another Adorer of the Blood of Christ, Sister Carmina, started a sewing school for women in the region. I met her last year when I visited Chibumagwa where Precious Blood Father Deusdedit Mulokozi was serving as pastor. Father Deo is now working in the Kansas City Province, serving the parishes in Sedalia and Bahner, Missouri. Sister Carmina founded an association called in Swahili, Msamaria Mwema (Good Samaritan) and dedicated this ministry to providing a safe place for women who have experienced domestic abuse. In seeking to give them a new start and a way to survive in the world, she began to teach them how to sew. Last fall, she asked for help to purchase some sewing machines and fabric. With a grant from the Human Development Fund, the new sewing machines have arrived in Chibumagwa. Sister Carmina is giving a future to women and children who had no hope.
My return visit to Tanzania in September reaffirmed how people of hope respond to the needs they see around them. They don’t wait for permissions or have all their plans in place before they act. They see a need and go to work.
When we feel stifled in our lives because the problems we face seem impossible, remember the story of the starfish that inspired Father Vincenzo and Sister Rosaria to make a difference in the lives of the children in Tanzania. Remember Sister Carmina creating a shelter in a remote village where women can find a safe place to begin a new future one stitch at a time. Remember we are people of hope who may not be able to change the world but if God’s dream of the kingdom of justice, truth, peace, and love remains strong in our hearts, we can make a difference in our little corner of the world.