Mater Dei USA works to create opportunities for Tanzanians
By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Catholics in the Diocese of Davenport and elsewhere in the U.S. partner with the poorest of the poor in Tanzania as they strive to break the cycle of poverty and gain access to social-economic opportunities. Tanzanian Father Mansuetus Setonga, who served in the Davenport Diocese when he began graduate school here in 2009, brought these partners together.
They pool their resources and efforts through a nongovernmental organization, Mater Dei USA, established in 2014. It is the fundraising arm of Mater Dei Africa which implements projects ranging from collective farming and micro-financing to education for children and for farmers and construction of schools and churches.
Fr. Setonga is in the United States this summer on a mission appeal for his home Diocese of Same, Tanzania. Last month, he made a trip to St. Mary-Centerville to talk about opportunities to partner with Mater Dei. Some of the parishioners and their pastor, Father Bill Hubmann, C.PP.S., traveled earlier this year to the Diocese of Same to see what is being accomplished through Mater Dei USA.
Seeds for the initiative were planted years ago, when Fr. Setonga was approached by several donors who wanted to provide capital to build schools and churches and to start cooperative farms, Fr. Hubmann said. “They started water projects and wells and they invested in an irrigation pumping system and developed an oasis where there was a desert. They built a tilapia farm to provide good protein for pregnant women and for sale in the market. They started cooperative farming and taught micro-economics and how to share those funds.
“They were always in the process of teaching and growing and developing and implementing more modern farm technology, advancing from
the primitive. They got into providing a solar light project” which enabled children to attend school in the late afternoon and evening because they had a light source, Fr. Hubmann explained.
The Precious Blood priest visited Tanzania 21 years ago to see the mission work of the Precious Blood community. On his journey with St. Mary-Centerville parishioners this past winter, Fr. Hubmann witnessed the “major advances in the last 21 years — in education, in health care; the highways are much improved. The whole lifestyle and quality of life have been significantly improved.” He appreciated being able to see that “investments that have been made have borne so much fruit.” That includes a $5,000 contribution the Precious Bloods made for a tilapi
a farm. “It’s fascinating to see what can happen if people work together and how a little bit of money or a little bit of an investment can go a long way in improving the lives of people.”
Fr. Setonga plans to speak at other parishes in and around the Iowa City area Sept. 3-4 and 10-11 as part of a mission appeal for the Diocese of Same, at the request of his bishop. The appeal includes trips to Minnesota, Indiana and Colorado, as well.
“My center is Iowa,” Fr. Setonga said, during a phone interview. “The Diocese of Davenport provided me a place to stay; they provided me with a residence” (during his studies and stays in Iowa). Parishes in the diocese also contributed to a multitude of projects, from construction of wells and building of churches and schools to establishing a scholarship for students.
Fr. Setonga grew up poor in Tanzania but has been blessed with many privileges. He earned graduate degrees in Minnesota and Iowa and stayed at the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City at no charge. “God has given me all this, so I should give back to God.” That’s why Fr. Setonga strives to enrich the lives of his fellow Tanzanians.
Through the years he’s gotten to know Lanny Kampfe, who attends the Newman Center, and Dr. Brad and Dewey McConville of St. Mary Parish-Centerville. All three serve on the Mater Dei USA board of directors. Kampfe believes divine providence led to his introduction to Fr. Setonga six years ago. That’s when the Kampfe family returned home from a safari in Kenya and Tanzania, determined to make a donation to a Christian organization that would benefit impoverished people in Tanzania.
Walking into the Newman Center for Mass, Kampfe remembers then-director Father Ed Fitzpatrick approaching him and saying, “There’s a priest here from Same, Tanzania, whom I’d like you to meet. Fr. Setonga.” The priest had been praying that God would provide for a new parish in the village of Makaynia. Kampfe and his family had been praying that God would guide them in making a donation. The chance meeting was an answer to prayer.
Dewey McConville said she and her husband have been committed to Fr. Setonga and his mission projects since 2002 when they went on a medical mission trip with three of their children, a niece and their future daughter-in-law. All were medical students then and all are physicians now. “The experience was life changing for all of us. (I am a physician assistant, and four of us are University of Iowa College of Medicine graduates.) We are committed to all of Mater Dei empowerment projects, not just medical programs. We hope more people in our diocese will have the opportunity to visit Same, Tanzania, in the future and experience God’s presence in these amazing people.”
Fr. Setonga also worked with others in the Davenport Diocese and elsewhere in the Midwest to raise funds for projects to benefit the people of Tanzania. “Mater Dei developed after Fr. Setonga realized he could coordinate our giving,” Kampfe said.
“Mater Dei Africa is owned by the people of God,” Fr. Setonga said, “the priests, the nuns and the lay people.”
Facts about Mater Dei USA
Mission: To transform the lives of the poor, including elderly people and vulnerable children, by providing integrated family care and community-based services to enable them to become self-reliant and productive members of society, both economically and socially.
Areas of emphasis:
• Relief — such as food assistance, shelter and aid.
• Development — introduction of micro-finance programs, health, literacy and gender equality, construction of fish ponds, improvement of agricultural production, cross-breeding of native cattle with exotic dairy breeds, installation of solar generators in village centers.
• Education — Partner with Mbesese Institute for Sustainable Development to construct and open a technical college in the Same area, school scholarships for orphans.
• Health — develop a mobile clinic, partnerships with government and NGO health workers to provide HIV/AIDS education.