TANZANIA — Mention the African country of Tanzania and images of lions roaming the Serengeti plains or climbers testing their mettle against Mount Kilimanjaro come to mind. Against this exotic backdrop are harsh realities faced by many of the Tanzania people: recurring drought, 1 million people infected with the AIDS virus and millions of others who live on less than a dollar a day.
The Most Rev. John C. Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City, witnessed these realities when he visited Tanzania Oct. 2 - 6 as a member of a contingent from Catholic Relief Services.
CRS is the overseas humanitarian agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It serves about 100 million people in almost 100 countries worldwide, including 600,000 in Tanzania. In that country, its programs help provide services for those with HIV and AIDS, increase farm productivity, microfinancing and peacebuilding between various religious groups.
Bishop Wester is chairman of CRS’ Overseas Operations Committee. Other members of the CRS contingent to Tanzania were Dr. Carolyn Woo, the organization’s president; the Most Rev. John H. Ricard, SSJ, Bishop emeritus of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla.; the Most Rev. Frank J. Dwane, Bishop of Venice, Fla.; and the Most Rev. J. Kevin Boland, Bishop of Savannah, Ga. Joining them in country were Conor Walsh, CRS Tanzania Country representative; and David Orth-Moore, CRS regional director for East Africa, among other CRS staff members.
The trip, which coincided with a celebration of CRS’ 50th anniversary of operations in Tanzania, had several benefits, Bishop Wester said. "It helps me in my work to put faces on the facts and figures that we deal with in [CRS] committee meetings in Baltimore, and for us bishops it helps us to see firsthand CRS’ activities abroad so we can bring back what we have learned to the board."
While in Tanzania, the bishops encouraged CRS staff, helped CRS make new partners to assist with its programs and met people who benefit from the programs.
"People made the point that writing a check is wonderful – and necessary, I might add — but our presence meant a lot to the people, that we were actually with them, reaching out to them personally," Bishop Wester said. "It showed that they mean something to us and that we care about them."
Having four American bishops and the president of CRS visit to celebrate CRS’ presence in the country also drew public attention to the organization and its work, Bishop Wester said. "It opens doors, too – Church doors, State Department doors, other NGO (non-governmental organization) doors. They all came to see and to celebrate."
The visit began in Arusha, where the bishops and Dr. Woo met with Archbishop Josaphat Louis Lebulu, who said his priorities were water projects to help preserve water for drinking and farming; food security, especially during drought years; and the AIDS pandemic.
"Archbishop Lebulu also is very concerned about dealing with the orphans" whose parents have died from AIDS, Bishop Wester said.
After the meeting the team traveled to Karatu, where CRS is involved with the school that, among other subjects, teaches children about personal hygiene that helps prevent cholera.
"There was a most enchanted moment when all the students, hundreds of them, performed for us," Bishop Wester said.
The CRS members then visited a program site where berms are being built to prevent erosion, keep the lake from filling with silt, and make the land arable as well as help replenish the groundwater that supplies the wells.
"We had a beautiful view of the valley where Great Rift Valley begins," Bishop Wester said. "It’s a beautiful setting, but sad to see the people living in these primitive conditions – no electricity and no running water to speak of."
At lunch, the team met with Bishop Beatus Kinyaiya O.F.M. of Mbulu, who "was not as familiar with CRS as Archbishop Lebulu, so it was a good chance to deepen the bonds that we have with one another," Bishop Wester said.
The next day was spent traveling to Dar es Salaam, where for two days the team met with representatives from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. embassy, spoke at a press conference, attended a reception in honor of the CRS anniversary and had meetings with other officials.
"They gave us good insight into their priorities and policies that will be useful," Bishop Wester said. "My visit to Tanzania for the 50th anniversary of Catholic Relief Services’ presence in that country was truly remarkable. I learned a lot about CRS’ programs and I had an opportunity to meet the people who benefit from these programs, people who are full of hope, optimism and ability. Although I was only there for five days, our group covered a lot of territory and what is more, the Tanzanians found a way into the territory of our hearts. I am more convinced than ever that our contributions to Catholic Relief Services are being multiplied by the dedicated staff of CRS and the recipients of our donors’ generosity who are realizing their dreams."