To Mfumte with love from Ventura

To Mfumte with love from Ventura

Santa Barbara Region

Many believe that what you send out will come back to you. Father Eugen Nkardzedze, a young parish priest from the Diocese of Kumbo, Republic of Cameroon, West Africa, exemplifies that statement.

He arrived in Ventura five months ago at the invitation of Father Daniel O’Sullivan, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Ventura, to learn about life in an American parish. He also hoped to raise funds for a school he had started by sharing his story. When he returned to Africa in November, Father Nkardzedze had raised more money than he’d hoped, and he received so many gifts for his people that a 40-foot shipping container was required to transport everything home.

Father Nkardzedze’s friendly smile, warm demeanor and generous spirit emerged as he spoke to churches, civic groups and school children, sharing his dream and his hopes for the Mfumte, a tribe for whom the region is named.

The Mfumte dwell in 14 villages on the northwestern border between Cameroon and Nigeria. Their population is about 70,000, despite a high infant mortality rate. For the most part, the Mfumte are illiterate — three of the 14 villages do not have a single literate person. The Mfumte also lack healthcare, electricity, water, transportation and communications facilities.

Father Eugen believes that the best thing he can provide the Mfumte children is an education. He reasons that educating today’s children will help solve current problems and provide a more promising future by finding ways to lower the infant mortality rate, acquire a safe water supply, build new roads, and bring electricity, communications facilities, clinics and more schools to this remote region.

Living in a four-room house that serves as the Mfumte’s elementary school, church and clinic, Father Eugen stores the supplies for these three separate institutions in his bedroom and distributes them carefully, conserving his few resources. His clinic has already helped cut the infant mortality rate in half, and he hopes to reduce illiteracy through Our Lady of Fatima, a Catholic elementary school he started during his first year among the Mfumte. Initially Father Eugen taught the children himself until the enrollment rose. Now he has two teachers for the school of 78 students, where only one-quarter are Catholic.

To make others aware of his mission, Father Eugen spoke to the parishioners of Sacred Heart, St. Maximilian Kolbe in Westlake Village, and St. Clare in Santa Clarita. He also spoke to civic groups and students at Balboa Middle School in Ventura, at the request of teacher Judith Allen, whose seventh graders were studying Africa. He told the students of life among the Mfumte, where things Americans take for granted — running water, meals cooked indoors, and rides to school and church — don’t exist. He began each speech with, “You don’t realize how fortunate you are to live in America?.”

Parishioners and the community responded with generosity. Children and adults raised funds and donated items — medical supplies, bicycles, school supplies, clothing, beds, walkers and even a motorcycle — to help the Mfumte. Much to Father Eugen’s relief, the donated items managed to fit in the 40-foot shipping container.

Father Eugen left Sacred Heart one Monday in November as quietly as he arrived. He also left a number of saddened parishioners and a more enlightened Ventura community.

—Libby Atwater