Human dignity, evangelization and a cow

Lisa Johnston |
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Is it possible to evangelize others with a cow? Ask Bishop John Baptist Kaggwa, and he'll say yes.

The bishop of the Masaka Diocese in southern Uganda is doing just that through the Masaka Diocese Dairy Organization Cow Project, an effort he started in 1993 to provide dairy cows to Ugandan families in an effort to help them rise out of poverty and help them to boost their self-worth and dignity.

The 71-year-old bishop recently was in St. Louis for several weeks and spoke at the annual gala for Microfinancing Partners in Africa, a St. Louis-based nonprofit organization founded by Sister Toni Temporiti, CPPS, to help eradicate extreme poverty in Africa, through the use of small business loans.

"It's difficult to evangelize to the poor," Bishop Kaggwa told Sister Toni during their first meeting in Uganda in 2008. The area's existing staple crops -- bananas and coffee -- had been compromised by disease, a worm of some type, that was devastating their crops -- and source of income.

"They've lost a kind of human dignity," he recalled. "So I said, I'd like to raise up their morale. I was thinking about the provision of a cow. I said, I think a cow could be sustained by these families."

With just a few cows and a handful of families, Bishop Kaggwa started the effort as an experiment. Families are given an $800 loan to purchase a dairy cow, which provides them with a personal source of milk. Excess milk is sold for profit to centers set up in the area; some of the milk is used for other dairy products, such as yogurt and butter. The cow's waste products are used as biofuel for electricity and fertilizer for banana and coffee bean crops, both of which are staples in the area.

Sister Toni returned to the United States and immediately started raising funds for the project. In 2009, Bishop Kaggwa received a call from her. "She says, 'I've got some cows here.' I thought, 'My God, is this true?'"

So far, the project has given 765 cows to families, more than Bishop Kaggwa ever could have hoped for. Each family undergoes training on how to handle the cow, and they must build a special shelter that provides for grazing, milking and a space to move around. Another 137 families have been trained and are sitting on a waiting list -- they will be the first beneficiaries of the 150-plus cows for which funds were raised during the gala in St. Louis. Similarly, Mary Queen of Peace Parish in Webster Groves, which hosted Bishop Kaggwa during his visit here, has initiated a challenge to raise funds for 40 cows during the 40 days of Lent. (See related.)

Bishop Kaggwa said "the people are very appreciative and they're becoming even more generous -- they're sharing the fruits with others." He also noted that there is no discrimination among faiths -- some recipients are Catholics, while others include Muslims and Protestant denominations, for example.

"People are working together," he said. "They're forming small groups -- associations of farmers, which gives them another opportunity to learn. Once they're working together, there's no distinction between the classes. It will affect income and relationships, but also there will be a peaceful co-existence among them. That creates justice and creates peace. I thank God every day."

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