On June 15, 2014, two seminarians and two faculty members began a journey to Tanzania at the invitation of Catholic Relief Services to learn about the good work being accomplished among the disadvantaged of that country. After a brief orientation at CRS headquarters in Baltimore, the St. Mary Seminary contingent joined two faculty and two seminarians from Aquinas Institute (located in St. Louis) together with three CRS staffers for the journey.
Traveling the highways over the hills and mountains of southern Tanzania, the group eventually reached the Diocese of Njombe. After traveling over bumpy dirt roads to reach an isolated village, it heard first-hand testimony of how CRS-trained groups have begun to pool their money and lend it to one another for various projects. These people lack adequate assets to receive even small loans from banks. They therefore establish “Savings and Internal Lending Communities” (SILC groups) to enable them to pool their money, lend it out to one another at interest, and thereby allow themselves to do such things as set up small businesses, pay for the education of their children, expand their farms or fix their homes.
From there, the group, traveling in four Toyota Land Cruisers, moved off to the Archdiocese of Songea where it witnessed a SILC group joyously celebrating a local leader who had helped set up six SILC groups in his community. Our group then bounced across more rugged terraine to Nakahegwa, also a village in the Archdiocese, where it witnessed an ordinary SILC meeting.
In addition, the group witnessed the results of the common efforts of local farmers of the Nakahegwa region. Under the prompting and guidance of CRS, the farmers have begun to enter into soybean cooperatives so they could gather their individual crops into a much larger crop stored at a warehouse. This enables those farmers to bargain for much more favorable prices from the buyers than was previously possible.
The joy and pride that was so evident on the faces of these Tanzanians made the trip a profound blessing for the whole CRS group. On the last day, CRS treated the group to a visit to the Mikumi National Park where we saw the local wildlife, practically everything from Antelope to Zebra. Fr. Mark Ott stayed behind to extend his travels to Mount Kilamanjaro (which he is now climbing) while Fr. Jerry Bednar accompanied seminarians Bobby McWilliams and Anthony Simone back to the Diocese of Cleveland.
Many thanks to CRS staffers Mikaele Sansone and Fr. Tom McQuaid who provided wonderful planning, guidance and accommodations on this most fruitful journey.
-Fr. Jerry Bednar