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Seeing the presence of God with CRS in Tanzania

26 Tanzania_2017_1338.welcoming.committee PAGEThe welcoming committee greets the August 2017 Catholic Relief Services delegation at Intumpi village, Tanzania. (Photo courtesy Catholic Relief Services)

October 12, 2017
Carolina Parrales

I feel so blessed to have been part of a Catholic Relief Services delegation that visited Tanzania at the end of August this year. For the past four years I have been promoting CRS programs for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, from Rice Bowl to Fair Trade products, disaster relief and breaking the cycle of poverty overseas. These are some of the ways CRS has been responding to our brothers and sisters overseas on behalf of the Catholic community of the United States.

Hot weather and poverty are not new to me. I was born and raised in El Salvador, where 73 is the average temperature year-round and signs of poverty are everywhere. But something different touched my heart while visiting Tanzania: The warmth, joy and vivacity with which we were welcomed in every village as well as the detachment on material things brought back to life the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

We arrived in the capital city of Dar es Salaam where we visited the local CRS office and met the staff including the country representative and the head of programs for an overview of all the three main program areas in Tanzania – agriculture, health and water – and to learn more about the two regions we were scheduled to visit during the following seven days. To the north we were visiting the region of Mwanza, close to the famous Lake Victoria, and to the south, the Mbeya region. The programs we were about to witness in action were Early Childhood Development; the Accelerated Stunting Reduction Project; an agriculture initiative called “Soya ni Pesa” (Soybeans are Money); the internal lending community groups known as SILC (Saving, Investing, Lending, Community); and the UNICEF WASH project in which CRS is an important partner focusing on access to water, sanitation and hygiene services that in Tanzania are highly inequitable.

Our role was not only to witness the different sessions but also to interact with the community. Most of the sessions included a large number of young women and small children who were delighted to hear the translator say that among us “The Americans” were also parents who shared the same concerns and wanted the best for our children. Part of every training or meeting was singing, clapping and dancing. The song lyrics were not separate from the main theme; they were actually a reinforcement of all key elements the children have just learned. Phrases such as “Tunawa penna watoto we tu,” which means “we love our children,” are repeated as a reminder of why they were there and what is the main purpose of the meetings. “Watoto Kwanza” – “children first” – was a phrase I brought back with me and still makes me smile remembering the children’s joy while playing together with some handmade toys or recycling material.

Near the end of our visit, at Intumpi village, I was transported to Palm Sunday Mass while riding in one of CRS’ 4x4 Land Rovers. We encountered many people walking on the side of the road, and as soon as they heard the cars approaching they stopped and waved tree branches they carried in their hands and then ran behind us to join the other group already onsite, signing and repeating the word “Karibu” (“welcome”). At that same village we were offered a very precious gift: a sack of very tiny seeds. That community was giving us not only a material gift but also a lesson in stewardship. Because they see how their lives have improved and that mortality rates have dropped. They see in our CRS work the presence of God and are confident God will provide a good harvest in the near future and return them a hundredfold.

Parrales is administrative assistant for the director of Human Life and Dignity for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. She also serves as CRS diocesan coordinator.

Catholic Relief Services, the overseas development agency of the U.S. Catholic bishops, promotes socioeconomic empowerment while reaching the most vulnerable people in marginalized, underserved communities. CRS has been working at the peripheries of the world since 1943 when the U.S. bishops established the agency to help war-torn Europe and its refugees recover.

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