Sister Angelica Birungi, CSC, cares deeply for the people of Virika Parish, where she lives and ministers. When the parish, located in the Fort Portal Diocese in Uganda, organized an effort to distribute food during the COVID-19 lockdown, Sister Angelica was happy to help. In doing so, however, she discovered a significant unmet need.
During the pandemic, young people in search of jobs and improved livelihoods moved to the cities. But the elder population remained behind, often with poor medical care and reduced psychosocial and spiritual support. Some of the elders were illiterate. Most had not been in active employment and therefore did not have stable savings or pension funds. Furthermore, many suffered from chronic diseases and were unable to give themselves adequate care. Sadly, too many were dying prematurely.
"In old age they will still bear fruit"
Naturally concerned, Sister Angelica designed a plan that would provide the most vulnerable elders with the interventions needed for better outcomes. She applied for and received a Ministry With the Poor grant from the Congregation. The grant would allow her to create a one-year program to help meet the health and nutritional needs of this marginalized population. The creation of social connections and a spiritual care network was also a crucial part of her plan.
Collaboration helps reach more elders
In nearly every endeavor, the most effective work is often done in collaboration with like-minded individuals and groups. To launch her plan, Sister Angelica partnered with local spiritual leaders and civic leaders to ensure that elderly people of any faith were included in the program.
Subsequently, Sister Angelica identified 50 individuals over the age of 60 who had no means of livelihood and had pressing physical, social and spiritual health issues. She then set about taking health histories and assessing needs.
Fruits of Holy Cross
Every month, Fruits of Holy Cross shares the good news of the ministries of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. Our “fruits” are nourished not just by the sisters’ labors or the seed of faith planted by our founder Blessed Basil Anthony Moreau, they are watered by our many prayer partners, donors and benefactors—by you.
Holistic support for elders
As a result, the program Sister Angelica created provides nutritional information, food distribution and medicines for those who cannot buy them on their own.
With an eye toward long-term health, Sister Angelica engaged local craftsmen to construct an eco-stove for each participant. Used for cooking, eco-stoves are fueled by solar-aided volcanic rock instead of firewood, which presents several serious health risks. The stoves give the elders a healthy way to prepare their food and are better for the environment.
Another key component of the program involves monthly gatherings that give the participants an opportunity to sing, pray and share life experiences. The gatherings are an outlet that bring positive social and spiritual support to the elders.
The program also funded the cost of 1,000 saplings (20 per participant) to plant around their homes or the community. The planting of the young trees became both an enjoyable social and ecological activity.
In addition, the program provided the elders with five herbal plants that support good health. They are often used in drinks and in herbal medicines. Local enterprises use these herbs, too, giving the participants an opportunity for income.
The program showed great promise in its first year and received a second Ministry With the Poor grant to continue for another 12 months. Now, even more elders will benefit from the program’s holistic health focus, just like first-year participant Elizabeth Bikorwenda. Elizabeth, 70, is a single woman who never married and does not have children. She worked when she was young and strong, but when her health worsened, she came to live with her sister and niece, who has two children. Together the five family members live in a single rented room in a slum area.
Sister Angelica writes, “When we came across Elizabeth, we saw that she needed immediate relief from pain. She had been living with a loose painful tooth for almost a year and was suffering from chronic arthritis, making walking very difficult. The next day she was taken to Virika hospital, where the tooth was extracted and medicines for relief of arthritic pains were prescribed for her. This indeed relaxed her body, and a smile was on her face within the week.”This is Sister Angelica’s goal: that the elders in the community will know they are cared for and loved.