Newsletter from Africa – October 2022

Dear friends of Africa                                                                                                 October 2022

           With the death and burial of Queen Elizabeth of England these days the news is full of all the affairs of the Royal Kingdom of England and of the enormity of its worldwide reach and of the how it all came about and equally, the why of it all did not play a part in the celebrations. Elizabeth herself became the queen while on her honeymoon vacation in one of tourist resorts in the English colony of Kenya. The whole situation is so filled with irony, to be the owner of someone else’s home and birth right merely on the basis you saw it and had the might to make it your own. How perverse we are that our being there gives us any right of ownership. Think of our Saviour when He came to live here He said that what He brought was life and that we would have it more abundantly. The outrageous go and arrogantly stand on the shore of some distant land after awesome sea voyages and to declare ownership in the name of the King, Queen or whoever else sponsored the trip just because he was there and saw it. But let this suffice for my humble comments on the global and political spheres.

             But  what a surprise for me to see when I returned to school after some busy days in Dar es Salaam to find our school  national flag at half mast. When I inquired how come our flag was at half-mast and I was then informed that the official order to do so came from the central government itself. I came to question this official response to the historical fact of Tanganyika‘s status as a German colony from the 1890’s up until 1916 as a result of the carving up of Africa during the Berlin conference of European countries in 1890’s.Then in 1916 Tanganyika became a British colony when the British chased the Germans out of their African colony.Then in 1960 on July1st. it became an independent African country under the then leadership of Julius Nyerere as the first elected President. I was already in Tanganyika when the British flag came down to be replaced by the Independent Tanganyika sovereign green and gold one. The forgiving character of the Tanzanian people is certainly to be admired for a nationwide turning of the other cheek in bestowing the former occupying country with such an honor of respect for the passing of their Queen. It was one of the pitiful occasions for the First President, Julius Nyerere to hear a complaint during the formative years of the newly independent Tanganyika to hear a Tanzanian complain that “it was better during the Colonial times than it is now.”

            Throughout last month the school has been in a constant commotion of cars, buses, and motorcycles delivering students from all corners of the country ferrying students to register for the final school term. The National Census taken every ten years also  interrupted opening day by a couple of weeks but by the beginning of the month we should be in full swing for the rounding up of the school year.

            Once the terminal exams begin in earnest, a hospital type silence pervades the school compound. Strangely there are none of the general sicknesses like headaches, stomach pains and backaches. However it is also like a minor earth tremor when the last exam is over and the students exit the exam rooms in vocal and gleeful relief.

            I recall a brief episode many years ago in seeing the then President Nyerere when he was visiting a government agriculture project in the southern province of Tanganyika, as it was known then. There were various vegetables in smart precision rows and the project manager was proudly walking the President through the grid like lines of flourishing vegetables. The President was often seen carrying a short polished stick much like a military officer’s swagger stick. At one point in the procession between rows of cabbages the president leaned over a row of the very upright cabbages and tipped a number of them over with his stick, vegetables which had obviously just been struck in the soft soil to resemble healthy mature plants a few days prior to the Presidential visit. There was an embarrassing pause in the walkabout and abrupt diversion to the refreshment tent. What was discussed between the President and the project manager was not made public but most certainly must have been pertinent to the future career of that agriculture officer. After two 5 year terms as President, Nyerere retired to his modest home and farm on the shores of Lake Victoria and lived and worked as a retired farmer. To his credit and example there was never a dynasty mentality or movement in vying for primacy in the run for the presidency or   a ruling party in the politics of Tanzania although this seems to be subject to some changes these days. This too however is one of the blessings of Julius Nyerere to the legacy he left to his beloved country. The name Tanzania was created after Tanganyika and Zanzibar agreed to unite as a single country. There is a very symbolic picture of Julius Nyerere holding two gourds and pouring the soil of each country into a single woven container. The symbolic gesture of course depicted the union of the two independent countries now as one nation, and renamed Tanzania combining Tanganyika and Zanzibar. It was a dream long debated and the foresight and the unblemished stature of a man like Nyerere made that dream become a reality.

            When we first decided to have a girls school here at Mazinde Juu the subject soon arose as to what kind and color of uniforms the students would wearing. A fellow long time missionary Fr. Murphy asked me on our first encounter, “Where do you come from in Ireland? The Green Gold and white of course gave me away. May our Good Lord be with you all and bless your lives for the good you are doing so far from your homes and all your concerns and needs there. I remember you all in my daily Masses and prayers. Sincerely Grateful,

Fr. Damian

Newsletter from Africa – October 2010

Dear friends,                                                                                              October 2020

          Our school driver delivered a raft of Swahili and English newspapers this morning and I immediately began to devour the news of Covid-19 and the election campaigning both here and in the States. Our secretary just came by and asked if there was to be an October letter. I had completely forgotten so I am trying belatedly to make amends. We had a graduation ceremony for our Form IV students. It was a pleasure to see all 135 of them so confident mounting the stage to receive their certificates. Many of them were given medals and other awards for exceptional academic performance. This was at our school a private affair but they still must take the government exams to receive their official diplomas. Due to Covid-19 we did not invite any parents or outsiders so it was a quiet family affair. Now the students are concentrating on doing their best on the government final exams next month which will qualify them for higher study in the Advanced Level high school and ultimately to university level degrees.

          Another reason for having the graduation before the final examinations is to get the students settled psychologically so that they can concentrate on their preparation for the exams without the distraction of the fanfare of celebration that goes with the graduation ceremony. There is nightly extensive coverage of the campaign for the presidential election on TV which will take place on the 28th of this month. One of the most vigorous speakers, a man called Tundu Lisu, was hospitalized after he was shot 17 times during a parliamentary session but survived recovering for the most part in Europe. One of our former students from my first school which I built in the 1950 and 1960 years is also a candidate. His name is Bernard Membe and was the guest of honor some years back and mentioned that one of highlights of his time at St. Benedict’s, my first school, the boys were delighted when they got word that I would be gone for few days knowing that it meant I had gone into the bush on a hunting safari and they always knew that it would mean some feasting on fresh antelope or warthog.   

We have just finished the processing of students to be admitted to Form I next year. There are so many requests for places that we have three stations in larger cities to make it easier for the parents to have their children sit for our exam.

          This year 410 girls took the exam the number of prospected candidates was a bit down this year due to the corona epidemic. Our intake quota is only 150 for 3 streams in the first year of secondary school. Last year we had more than 600 taking the entrance exams. We give two entrance exams per year for, acceptances to Form I and another for Form V for the entrance into A Level, Advanced Secondary School. The competition is keen to get into Mazinde Juu since our success rate is high and every student who graduates qualifies for university. A good number also qualify for paid bursaries in whole or in part by the receiving colleges.

          My second school, also a girls school is called Kongei. It was started in 1995 when the local people petitioned the Bishop Telesphore Mkude, for a school like Mazinde Juu for their children. The Bishop told the villagers he would give them a school if they would have the government return the middle school and its property which they had taken over some years previously. Then before any action had taken place the bishop was transferred to another diocese. The villagers went to him and pleaded again for their school but he contested that since they had not yet got the old middle school returned to diocesan control therefore he was not ready to continue with his part of the bargain. However they insisted that they would continue with they are plan for a school and he as a Bishop should certainly keep his promise. A week later the Bishop’s secretary came to Mazinde Juu and told me that he the bishop wanted me to start a school at Kongei. I asked the secretary, Father George, whether the bishop had written a letter or a check for the project. There was neither just the verbal orders for a school. The first class of Kongei secondary school opened before the year 1995 closed out. Sad to say however the school is not doing well due to bad management and enrollment is way down and I have to skive and save to meet the monthly salaries for the staff.

  Fortunately we are managing to keep operational here at Mazinde Juu by the Grace of God and diligence and your generous help.

Yours sincerely,

Father Damian

Form Four Graduation Day

Newletter from Africa – August 2020

Dear friends of Africa,                                                                                   August 2020

            We have started a new school term and having said goodbye to the form VI students all 220 of them and have welcomed the 180 new form V scholars. Today is also the funeral of Benjamin Mkapa who was the third president of Tanzania. He was ever a devout Catholic and did his secondary schooling at our Benedictine Abbey of Ndanda. In his autobiography he had glowing praise for the fine education he received under the tutelage from the monks there at Ndanda, mentioning many of them by name. One teacher whose name he could not remember but described only as a tall American who taught science was our own Father Kevin Barron from St. Paul’s Abbey in Newton, New Jersey. For sure they will meet there in Paradise and share fond memories of Ndanda. Of President Mkapa’s  greatest accomplishments perhaps one of the greatest, was the abandonment  of the straight jacket socialism bequeathed  from the first president Julius Nyerere’s  Ujamaa  (African socialism) policy. The economy surged in the  newly liberated atmosphere and new energy and enthusiasm replaced the drab climate of constant shortages and suspicion of non believers in the official party line. Harassment was rampant and even ourselves as missionaries were suspect of spying in the pay of foreign countries. Once I was stopped in the middle of Masailand, by militiamen miles from nowhere. I was going to an out station for Sunday services. I was told to get out of my land rover and was body searched for contraband. Finding nothing suspicious they searched the car and in the tool box they found a brand new oil filter. They removed it from its container and they found it very suspicious. They came the conclusion that it was a short wave radio that I was using to communicate with the CIA.   I had then opened   the bonnet of the car to show them the function of the oil filter. However the bar of soap in my personal travel kit was highly suspect of black market activity since I could not produce a receipt for the purchase of the item. And so the circus carried on nationwide and the time was overripe for a savior of sanity in the person of Benjamin Mkapa.

            He paid a visit to our school after his retirement and delighted staff and students with his wisdom and wit sprinkling his talk with quotes from Plato to St. Thomas Aquinas.  On arrival he first asked to visit the Chapel for a brief prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.  While the Sisters gave him the guided tour of the school, Sister Evetha  the Headmistress, asked me to prepare a suitable gift to present to Mr and Mrs Mkapa on their departure. Had we had advance notice of their visit we could have made something in our shops. But time was of the essence so I removed a beautiful wooden crucifix from the fourth year classroom and polished it until it glowed. The Mkapas’ gratitude was heartfelt and each both Benjamin and his wife Anna embraced the crucifix with sincere devotion. I was delighted to have saved the day with the crucifix. However the removal of the cross did not sit well with the Form four girls. They held a sit down protest outside their classroom. The whole class, Christians, Muslims and other denominations together demanded the return of their crucifix and were highly indignant that their study place had been invaded and defiled. I pleaded with them to enter in and promised to replace the cross but they said it would not be the same since they   had been studying   and learning for four years with their own cross and this new one would not be the same. They half heartedly agreed when I explained our need to give our honored guests a fitting sign of our gratitude for their coming all the way   to our remote school deep in the Usambara mountains. Within a week I had a replacement cross and was forgiven for my rude removal of their own inspirational icon.

Our teachers are working full time and flat out to prepare their students for the upcoming final examinations. When I leave school to go to my own house for the night at about 10 PM the lights are still on in the staff room with a clutch of students at each desk getting special help and advice from their class teacher. On days when it is not too cold the students sit in small groups with their teachers out in the warm sunshine. Since all of our teachers have free housing on the school property it makes it easier for them to devote more of their time and even free time for the benefit of the students. The fine overall academic performance of our school in the National Examinations attest to the efficacy of these teaching encounters. Again I want to thank you all for your participation in this worthy endeavor in enhancing the lives of these young African women and the future of Africa itself.


Father Damian

Special study groups

Newsletter from Africa – July 2020

July 2020 Dear Friends of Africa                                                                                                              The Tanzanian government declared a back to school order for the end of June and we received our final batch of students today. […]

Newsletter from Africa – June 2019

Newsletter from Africa – May 2019

Newsletter from Africa – April 2019

Newsletter from Africa – Aug, 2017

September 2017

Dear Friends of Africa,

As of the end of June I have been in the United States on home leave. I have been meeting with friends and benefactors and spending very special time with family and both close and distant relatives. This is I must say the most agreeable part of my visit. We had a family reunion in the State of Maine in the far northeast and all the immediate survivors of the 14 in our family made it by car or plane to the event with the exception of one sister who was ailing at the time.

Some family members have visited me in Africa at one time or other. One of my sisters, Rose spent two years at Lupaso, a mission in the far south, working as a nurse in a small leprosy hospital. Some of these memories of Rosie in Africa go back to 1966. Most memorable is going with her on her hospital rounds as she gave out the nighttime medicines to her leper patients. The hospital was a mud wattle building with a thatch roof. Rosie had two little girls as her assistants, both little 10 year old girls, one who carried the medicine tray on her head, the other with a kerosene lantern on hers as the only illumination for the night time medications. Another memory is of Rosie amid a flood of tears telling of treating a little boy who had been trapped in a wild bush fire. He was only about 5 or 6 years old and found himself trapped one day in a grass wild-fire. Totally bewildered by smoke and the roar of the fire and losing all sense of a way to safety he climbed a tree. The poor little boy’s fate was sealed on that tree as the fire in the tall grass engulfed him. His cries of terror and pain quickly brought the villagers to his rescue and they brought him straightaway to the mission hospital.  But it was the sorry task of the hospital staff to watch with the little boy without a patch of skin left on his seared body until he drew his tiny last tortured breath.

Two other nieces worked as teachers at Mazinde Juu for extended periods of time and have left fine legacies both in their teaching in the Mazinde Juu classrooms as well as lasting bonds of friendship among the people in the surrounding villages.  I recall an incident when a young German couple came to Mazinde Juu for their wedding ceremony. They wanted a very simple wedding with no frills or fanfare. The young couple had inquired at one of our German Abbeys when searching for an understanding missionary to perform their wedding, and they were given my name. And so it happened on a Friday afternoon in early September 1995 the villagers brought our visitors to my door with their request for a simple wedding in an African surrounding. I was a bit baffled about the whole affair since our Benedictine brothers in Germany had neglected to inform me about the arrangement. However the common African approach to the unexpected is expressed as “Hakuna matata” that is “No Problem.” The ceremony was scheduled for the following day. Word spread rapidly throughout the villages of the impending wedding the next morning. Funerals are the only celebrations that can out-do a wedding for community participation. The groom who stayed with me for the night appeared dressed for the wedding in the newly washed jeans and a tourist token tee shirt emblazoned appropriately with “Hakuna matata” “No Problem” on the front and “No hurry in Africa” with a leisurely lumbering elephant on the back. I had no objections to his wedding apparel but my niece Kathy Esposito was disturbed since the bride to be had nothing of real show for a bridal gown. She did have a simple summer dress as I recall and the bridesmaid, Kathie, took a strip of an imitation lace tablecloth for a veil and a little flat-bottomed basket for a hat to hold the veil in place to complete the bride’s attire. So much for the simplicity of our bride and groom. When we reached our assembly hall which served as our house of prayer as well, the entire student body of the 400 students at that time and all the Sisters from the convent and every other spare space was filled to overflowing with the curious and devout villagers.

The Mass and Wedding ceremony proceeded with the usual decorum but as the couple left our hall the assembled students and villagers exploded with thunderous drumming and ululations. The young German couple, Mathias and his wife were given chairs in the shade to enjoy the jubilations. They were plied with African beer and roasted meats on bamboo sticks to give them strength for the day’s festivities. They were then escorted to the villages where food had been prepared and where they were fed and entertained for the rest of the day. I had excused myself from the day’s revelry but was on hand when the newlyweds were returned to the mission escorted by scores of men, women, and children of the village all the while singing, dancing and drumming with undiminished vigor. So much for the simple quiet private wedding they had envisioned in Africa. My niece Kathie stayed with us for three years and set high standards in our school performance in English and delighted the school with her well-chosen drama in English as well.

There was another one of the Milliken clan who came out to Tanzania and who also worked as a teacher at Mazinde Juu.  She was my sister Jean’s daughter, Therese. Therese also taught English which is an essential subject since the medium of instruction in the Tanzania schools was and is till today in English. Therese was a dynamic teacher always devising new methods to get the message across. Therese was also an avid basketball player as well and spurred our girls on to a love of the game. The novices of the nearby Holy Ghost Novitiate would vie to recruit Therese for their matches knowing thereby that the team that Therese played on would be the winning one.

On one occasion, we both attended an English teachers seminar in Tanga the Regional capital some 75 miles from Lushoto. It was a two day affair. During the afternoon lectures on the second day there was a horrendous downpour with deafening thunder and blinding lightening. All the seminar participants sat transfixed waiting for the proverbial roof to fall in. After a couple of hours, the storm passed and a brilliant sun blessed the landscape. However, the roads leading home were mostly running deep with rain water and I shifted into four-wheel drive on our heavy school Nissan to negotiate the flooded lowland roads. After 2 hours drive we began to leave the plains and ascend the foothills of the Usambara Mountains.  By then the rains were tapering off but we still drove cautiously on the twisting darkened mountain roads. The school was silent and dark when we arrived but soon lights appeared one by one in the Sisters convent. We were greeted with total surprise when the sisters received us. “How did you get here?” was their astonished greeting. The radio declared that the Lushoto road had been washed away two hours ago. But I assured the Sisters that we came home by that very road. Out of curiosity I drove down the following day to see the ‘wash out’. By daylight it was truly an awesome sight. The narrow strip of tarmac still clinging to the mountain side did not exceed by one inch the width of a normal vehicle.  However last night I had never seen the empty gap in the road nor had Therese and we certainly never would have attempted such a crossing had we seen the road that daylight revealed.

Today all of our former Mazinde Juu teachers are back in the States, steady on the march into aging  years for all, but  certainly carrying many memories of their days in Tanzania. I can also add that they have left a legacy there and are not forgotten by the many students and parents who were touched by their lives here in Africa.

God bless you all for your steadfast and generous support.

Fr. Damian Milliken

Newsletter from Africa – Mar, 2017

Dear Friends of Africa,                                                                                                March 2017


In any society including our African villages there are those people who stand out, the ne-er-do-wells by the score, that is the do nothings, the mafia type who thrive on the fear they instil to achieve their nefarious ends, then the common folk who make up the majority and get on with living. Those who have had the good fortune of schooling live afar at their jobs; teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers and other professionals. But the ones who top the list as doers at least in keeping families together in our community are the mothers and especially the single mothers. In some instances, they are the widows. In many cases the mothers are single when the father has bailed out of the partnership leaving the care of the children to their mother. Time and time again I have found these single mothers indomitable. A recent case is an example but it is not at all unique.

Her name is Salome. She has 8 children, three of children are still schooling the other five have jobs and do what they can to help out at home.  I never hear mention of the father. Throughout my years in the Magamba area Salome and her children have always been intermittent partners in any building and other school endeavours that have engaged me. Hand crushed gravel was one of Salome’s specialties. On Saturdays from dawn to dusk the tap, tap, tap of rock on stone resonated from Salome’s compound. There would be Salome with an infant on her back and every older child sitting amidst a growing heap of gravel. I was appalled seeing the brothers and sisters banging rocks on stones making crushed stone for my building projects. I asked Salome about using hammers but she replied that they were too expensive. So I took the boys to my tool shed and issued them with enough hammers to keep the family profitably pounding. Salome would borrow but never beg and always cleared her debt before the pay by date.

Two weeks ago, a tragedy befell the family. It was a Sunday afternoon when Salome had returned home after Mass. She decided to pick the avocados from her little orchard and she engaged an agile little boy to climb the trees to harvest the fruit. She was delighted with the quality of the harvest and paid off her helper with a full basket of fruit from the bounty of the picking that afternoon. But on surveying the trees later in the day she spied a branch that was laden with fruit but obviously overlooked by herself and her little helper. Salome is a tiny woman but with a tractor size determination in caring for her family. So she went up the tree herself to gather the fruit from the final branch. But the avocado tree is a jealous one and not forgiving of intruders on her claims. The limb Salome seized to reach for the ripened fruit snapped and Salome went down with an added weight of the avocadoes in her overfilled shawl. As she crashed earthward through the branches she fractured multiple ribs and her spine as well. She was rushed to our local district government hospital where the initial care was given mostly regarding the alleviating of pain inflicted by the fall but nothing further. She was then sent to the government referral hospital in Dar es Salaam, a full day’s journey from Lushoto. Lying on her back, over a period of a month Salome was repeatedly scheduled for an operation but each time the appointed day arrived the procedure would be cancelled. Salome did not have enough blood. The children had all donated but the doctors were still not satisfied. Finally, the last Thursday of February Salome was taken to the operating theatre. After a long delay the patient was returned. The report this time was the surgery could not take place. The reason given was the operating table was broken and not functioning. So the daily and nightly vigils go on. I have visited the stalwart mother twice since her hospitalization in Dar es Salaam, both for her sake and to bolster the spirits of the children who surround her bedside like guardian angels. Her radiant smile belies the pain that must come with all the broken bone wreckage in her tiny body. On my first trip after our prayers Salome gestured to me to bend closer; she wanted to whisper something to me confidentially.  It was a business deal.  She told me that she had delivered two trucks loaded with fire wood for our parochial school, St. Benedict’s. One truck I should pay $50 for both the wood and the transport. The second was for the school but for me not to let her children know that it was a donation.

The last time I visited Salome was the day before the last scheduled and aborted surgery and she was alone. I had the sacraments with me and we prayed together the anointing and the Holy Communion. Just as we were concluding our prayer a nurse came and asked me to give the sacraments to a woman who had been injured in a motorcycle accident. These machines by the way account for three quarters of all the hospital casualties today. So after taking this added call I made my way down the corridor. Passing Salome’s ward she beckoned me to come in again. This I did straight away and she then whispered softly. “You left something out of the anointing.” Then she went on “Father you anointed me, my head, my eyes my ears and mouth and my hands too but you forgot my feet.” So I fumbled among the bundled sheets and covers finally locating a foot which I anointed. “That does the trick,” I assured her, at which juncture she took my hand with oil still shining on my fingers, kissed them and then let me go my way. But Salome is the constant intruder on my thoughts and prayers where ever I am these days. She has no feeling below the waist and the nurses tell me that she will never walk again. But I have no doubt that somehow or other our Salome will get around. She has three children still in school and a determination that can grow legs or possibly wings if she has to. Her youngest daughter, Felista, is with me in Mazinde Juu in her second year of Secondary school. She comes nightly to my office after night study to say good night on her way to her dorm. She is the latest version of Salome, vibrant, cheerful and a delight to be near.  She is a perfect replica of her mother in body and soul.

Another quaint story comes from our Congregation Superior from Germany, Archabbot Jeremias Schroder. He had come to our mission at Sakarani here in the Usambara mountains and was meeting with the missionaries stationed here myself included. He was accompanied by an African priest from West Africa and the discussion one evening was quite lively. The topic was about witchcraft and superstition, mixing the beliefs from East Africa and West Africa. I was able to add some notes about my own observations here and added some Irish traditions as well. I had some authority on this topic for I had a similar discussion with friends years back when I lived in the south of Tanzania. I believe I must have shown a bit of distain in some of my remarks about the local superstitions at that time. Later when making a visit to the home of one of the fellows who was also at that discussion he let me borrow a book from his home library. He was by the way a very well educated African government official at the time. The book he let me borrow was entitled “700 Irish Superstitions” He, in a very gentlemanly manner wanted to let me know that we all need to call a spade a spade when it is called for. Getting back to our recent meeting at Sakarani in an all embracing discussion on witchcraft and sorcery Father Archabbot Jeremias related an encounter he had years back on a visit with a former classmate in Vienna. His friend was now a practicing Psychiatrist in the former hometown of the famous doctor Freud. As he went into his friend’s practice he noticed a gilded gold horseshoe hanging over the doctor’s front door. Being rather curious seeing that symbol of good luck over the door of a psychiatric clinic he asked his friend in jest, of course, if the noted psychiatrist actually believed in this good luck charm. The doctor replied good naturedly “Of course not” and when Jeremais asked further why he ever bothered having it over the door. And the charming retort came, “Because it works.”

To conclude I would like to quote from the local newspaper “The Citizen” of March 22 from an article about a recent altercation between the Regional Commissioner of Dar es Salaam and a local News Agency. The statement relates to the Commissioner’s storming the offices of the news Agency with armed police for the Agency’s failing to report some personal accusations that the RC wanted to put on the air about one of his vocal critics. The quotation is now a response made by Ms. Hellen Kijo-Bisimba the National Director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre of Tanzania because of the public support the President gave for the Commissioner’s high handed action. The daughter of Ms. Kijo-Bisimba was a student some years ago at Mazinde Juu and we are happy to hear solid comments coming from the women of Tanzania who have been silent for so long on abusive behaviour going unaddressed. (Quote from the Citizen) “Dr. Kijo-Kisimba said Mr. Mokonda’s actions were a blatant violation of freedom of the press (Storming the Agency’ offices). What Mr.Makonda did was an act of hooliganism. He also abused his position by attempting to force an independent media organization to air content that was purely of his personal interest. “He made a mockery of the rule of law.” she said. Dr. Kijo-Bisimba urged the public to step up pressure on the President Magufuli to sack Mr. Makonda before the controversial RC did further damage. She also criticised Dr. Magufuli’s assertion that he collected candidacy forms of his own volition ahead of the 2015 Presidential elections, and that nobody could tell him what to do to appoint or to sack. “It is not the candidacy forms that gave him the presidency, wrote Hellen, but the Tanzanians who voted for him. He’s obliged to listen to those who put him in power and put their interests first.”

This was a refreshing comment on the events of the day especially coming from an intelligent committed woman. Let us hope she keeps her job and stays around for a long time in her critical position. Our girls at Mazinde Juu have every reason to look up to her a former school Mom and follow her courageous example. In that same edition of the Citizen by the way there was another article which claimed that Africa was not moving forward because the voices of the women were not heard nor heeded. Let us hope that Mazinde Juu fulfils the role to correct that anomaly. Thanking you for your faithful support and belief in our cause for women’s education.


Happy Easter it is Life we celebrate.


Father Damian

Newsletter from Africa – Dec. 2016

                                                                                     December, 2016

Dear Friends of Africa,

I think back now to July of 1945 when Father Michael Heinlein, a Benedictine Missionary Priest, came to our Parochial school of St. Patrick’s in Elmira New York. He showed us movies of life in Africa and invited boys to join him in the work of the East African missions in Tanganyika. He passed out cards to interested boys and promised to come and visit us and talk to our parents. I was rather disheartened when I learned that many of my school friends had a personal visit from Father Michael but not at my home at 1002 Hoffman St. Little did I know then that my intriguing mother was putting him off day by day not giving Fr. Michael the opportunity to meet me saying that I often had to stay after school for extra learning. Father Michael was not to be put off however and eventually we did meet together with him, my father and mother and myself. That meeting culminated with my joining the Benedictine Mission Seminary in Newton, New Jersey in September 1946 for my freshman year of High School. I was a homebody if there ever was one and to this day I ask myself how I ever chose to go away to a seminary and I was only 13 years old. My mother and father were totally against the whole idea but the aura of the paternity and sanctity of Father Michael seemed to tip the scales to the option that I go to the seminary that September 1946.

Now to fast forward to November 1960, I was sent to Tanganyika. I arrived there in November 1960, 14 years after Father Michael’s visit in Elmira, New York. I would like to allude to the direction of my life without this Father Michael encounter but that remains in the realm of speculation and the eternal mind of God. What I can truly say is that much has transpired in my life that for good or for ill has been to keep me close to an African trajectory. My first day in Tanganyika getting off the DC 3 on a dirt runway in Lindi seeing naked children running beside our gleaming blue US made Jeep was like a replay of some other life experience that I had. In a former lifetime I could almost suggest.

My first five years were filled with intense school work teaching English and Latin to little boys beginning with grade five of primary school, daily supervision of construction of storied school classrooms and dormitories, safaris to the bush searching suitable trees for felling and turning them into roof rafters, trusses, windows, doors, school desks and furniture. I learned Swahili and bits of the tribal language of Namupa “Kimwera”  which still rings hauntingly in my ears,  and the fires in the evenings with children roasting cashews over open fires, the drums throughout the nights celebrating a birth, a wedding or a happy event of one sort or another or the calling of the spirits to take care of the imponderables of living. The nights were unbearably hot and the Aladdin lamps fed by kerosene gave off a bright white light but also a white hot heat. We wrote many letters in those days still with pens with ink and a towel on the page to take up the sweat from our arms.

Village problems were our problems, births, deaths, medical emergencies all were part of the unprogrammed day and night hours. I remember an emergency hospital call when I was called to pick up an ancient Mama with serious abdominal pains.  I was driving a VW Kombi and it was just getting dark when we left the mission. The woman had never ridden in a car before and began shrieking saying that the trees were all running behind us. She began gagging and put her head out the window for some air coughing and sighing the whole while. The anxiety and excessive activity of the poor woman caused her lip plug to get dislodged and fell out on the roadside. Now the whole trip had to be aborted for she could not be seen in public without that symbol of her dignified womanly decorum. So we stopped the car and went on the search for the lip plug which was about the size of a small saucer. Fortunately, it was of white wood and quickly found and the stomach pains were almost forgotten with the incident of the lost facial ornament.

I was just going into class one Monday morning and a young man approached me as I was about to give my Latin and English lessons. He grabbed me by the arm and said it was urgent. I told him my classes were very urgent too. He protested and claimed the whole life of their village was at a standstill. When I asked for an explanation he said, “There is a lion in our village”. It was a rather stark rejoinder and I asked what I could do about their lion. Without waiting an answer I ran to my room and took down my well used 30.06 (pre-WWI military) rifle and went with a young Swiss volunteer on his motorcycle to meet the lion. The scene at the village was so pathetic. The lion had been snared in a wire trap. The snare was drawn tight around its hindquarters and was attached to a heavy log about five feet long. The poor beast had dragged the log goodness knows how long, such a cruel agony for such a magnificent beast. I truly felt it had come to the village of its fellow creatures for relief in its pain and torment. Without doubt or hesitation my friend walked up to the lion in the village square and eye to eye put the barrel of the 30.06 on its forehead and said “Goodbye King.” No doubt that 20 year old Swiss boy recalls that moment to this day.

The daily commentary today of the devastation of the African wild life – flora & fauna leaves us dismayed. I recall in the 1960’s waiting on my silent motorcycle of an early Sunday morning going for Sunday Masses while a herd of elephants took their time to cross my trail. Leopard and hyenas were nightly visitors during the dark hours and we did not have to worry about the boys sneaking off to the villages for unlawful visits.

Former student’s son Damian with Damian elder

I thought at the time that the damage done to Catholic principles and education with the nationalization of our schools was irreparable. However, the opposite is true now with catholic schools both secondary and colleges blossoming throughout the country and with stellar academic performance. I also would like to add that Mazinde Juu can be found among the top on this list of these high performers thanks now to all you faithful supporters. In the early 1970’s the government nationalized all mission schools in an effort to bring all educational institutions into conformity with an ideology of African socialism. The socialist experiment was well intentioned and widely preached and praised but in the long run the program went the way of so many other good intentions. I recall attending a political rally setting forth the ideals of communal ownership. The speaker started his speech declaring that from now on if anyone in the village had a tractor or a pick-up it would now be the village tractor and pick up. The shouts of approval were deafening. He went on saying if there were cows or goats owned by individuals they would now be the cows and goats of the village. More shouts and cries of approval. The speaker was now all pumped up and went on to declare that all the ducks, chickens and pigeons would now be village ducks and chickens and pigeons. This statement fell on dumbfounded ears and a dead silent audience. The speaker looked out over the gathered villagers appealing, “How come” he said, “tractors, trucks, cows and goats are all now common property. Now chickens, ducks and pigeons, No Go, how come?” he shouted appealing. “Because we each have our own chickens, ducks and pigeons,” came the reply from one intrepid farmer.

Our great problem today I see is apathy. A recent example of this was a plea by the former Prime Minister Mr. Pinda. He had attended a prestigious catholic boys’ school run by the Irish Holy Ghost Fathers in the pre-independence days. The school fell into decrepitude after being nationalized and Mr. Pinda made a public plea to all the former students called “Pugu Boys” after the place name of the school, to rally round and start a drive to raise funds to restore the school to its former glory. On the designated day for the meeting Mr. Pinda was the sole attendee out of hundreds of Pugu boys who had passed through the school. He was seen standing alone paradoxically in front of the dilapidated school chapel dedicated appropriately to St. Francis of Assisi.

New Science Laboratories

I had envisioned Mazinde Juu as a four-year Secondary school with an enrollment of 500 students. It has now grown into an Advanced level Secondary school with a six year curriculum and an enrollment of over seven hundred. It behooves me now to enlarge the kitchen and the dining room. Christmas is a wonderful time for making room in our hearts for those seeking shelter. We would invite your generosity in helping us making our rooms more welcoming too.

May the peace of our divine Saviour be with you all now and in the New Year and our deepest gratitude for all that you have done for us and are still doing side by side with us.



Father Damian