County residents encouraged to aid efforts to support unwed mothers in Uganda through new medical center
VANCOUVER — Nearly 9,000 miles from Clark County, across the nation of Uganda young women are faced with a reality all but unknown in the U.S. As teenagers, many become pregnant and are then rejected by their own families, often forced to leave and live in unimaginable poverty.
The situation leaves many mothers without the proper healthcare and support needed to maintain their lives or the lives of their unborn children.
One Ugandan woman, who has devoted her life to serving others, has enacted a plan to bring the young, unwed mothers back into society, and ensure their babies survival.
The Self Realization and Skills Development Center for Early Mothers (SSDC-EM) is the plan coming to fruition. She’s building right on top of what was once a site of war; now a place of hope.
“This which was used to destroy life, will be used to restore life,” said Sister Elizabeth Namazzi, of the institute Mary Mother of the Church, near Masaka, Uganda. “A young girl drops out of school as a result of pregnancy, she is helped to deliver the baby, put back into school and is able to have a future.”
In 2007, Sister Elizabeth encountered one young mother whose story would become the ember-to-fire of her center for young women. Her name was Gertrude, and like so many others she became pregnant as a teenager.
She was ostracized by her family, and driven away from home. At the time, she was one of Sister Elizabeth’s girls to watchover, and make sure she was doing well in school. The organization sponsoring Gertrude had not heard a check in from her in two school terms. Unless they had a report soon, they would have to give the funding to someone else.
Sister Elizabeth decided to leave, in search of Gertrude. She found her living on the edge of a forest, emaciated and anemic; nearly ready to give birth. Even after Sister Elizabeth explained Gertrude was to return home with her, she did not want to go.
“They didn’t want me at home, I cannot go home,” Gertrude said.
Sister Elizabeth and several other nuns, while trying to get Gertrude to a hospital that would not turn her away, had to deliver her baby on the side of the road. Fortunately, Gertrude and her child survived, were cared for at a nearby clinic and accepted back into their family.
Today, Gertrude has finished school and works as an elementary school teacher in the Masaka region. The way her life was turned around inspired Sister Elizabeth, so much so, she moved forward with founding the center.
“They all have a future if they are helped through,” she said. “I felt that if I can succeed with one, I think I can succeed with many more, if I had an education center. To give them the skills, I think it would save a lot more. So the project is intended to save two lives; that of mother and child.”
Currently, the buildings, designed by Seattle University students, are constructed up to the walls and exterior. They still need a roof, and the tumultuous storm season is fast approaching. The roof costs $25,000 to construct.
In order to gain exposure and crowdfunding for the project, Sister Elizabeth began to look for connections and networking opportunities.
As fate would have it, she was connected with Clark County through Mark Rose, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Battle Ground, which communicates with other parishes across the globe.
“I see the parallels between Sister (Elizabeth) and Mother Teresa; her works of mercy,” Rose said. “To me, Sister is a modern-day wonder woman. She’s fought the local government on unjust taxes, she’s pushed back soldiers who have forced themselves into the convent … She took 60 children away from rebel soldiers … How could I not help her?”
Now, on behalf of the project, Rose, other parishioners and people with Seattle University, operate a 501c3 nonprofit that raises funding for the center.
The nonprofit, which operates under the same name as the center, is accepting donations and partnerships to fund first, the roof construction and later the actual amenities. Total cost is estimated at $1.2 million, with continuous construction vital, or the government could seize the land.
During her time in Clark County and the states, Sister Elizabeth had the opportunity to speak with a Portland radio station and visit supporters in Seattle. Her and her organization have put together materials and resources for people who would like to support them, including a short documentary.