ARUA. As an Anglican I should admit I have had scarce encounters with the Catholic Church brothers, apart from a visit to Adraa agricultural college run by the Franciscan brothers and St Joseph’s vocational school in Ediofe.
My third encounter with a catholic brother was however memorable. This time, meeting with Br Richard Andama of the Comboni missionary society at Ombaci catholic parish.
Emerging with a broad smile, clad in gumboots and rather oiled clothes I was indeed struck by his first impression.
“I am quite clean today,” he says to my amazement as he shows us around the expansive but rather busy quarters of the Combonis.
Br Andama has spent barely two years at Ombaci catholic parish but manual work has been part of his life style.
It is a trait curried from the years of formation at various catholic training schools edifying the rule of St. Benedict, that is, pray and work (ora et labora).
“If you come here, you will never see me seated, people sometimes complain that I work too much but I tell them so long as my mouth still eats, I must work.”
Br Richard Andama was born in Lacor hospital at a time when his parents, both teachers lived in Lira district.
He later spent a great part of his life in Kigumba in Kiryadongo district where they have a family land. This is also where both of his parents were laid to rest.
He says their family kept all kinds of domestic animals that would later have a lifetime bearing on his love them.
Br Andama went to Kigumba and later Naguru primary schools, Kyambogo College and St. Josephs College Ombaci for ordinary levels.
He later joined Moyo technical institute for an advanced certificate and later Mt. Elgon for a Diploma. Around the same period is when he joined the Comboni missionaries to start his vocation to brotherhood.
He started training at St Joseph’s college Layibi, combining with a teaching role at the technical branch.
After two years of novitiate, he moved to the Catholic University in Kenya to undertake a bachelor’s degree course in social ministry.
However Br Andama is quick to assert that this bachelor’s degree was not at all his area of interest based on his love for practical work.
His first posting was to Zambia where he worked for two years and then transferred to Malawi where he worked for seven years.
He was forced to return to Uganda after a disagreement with his superiors in Lilongwe.
Six months into his stay in Uganda, he was convinced to go back for ministry work and had brief stints in Gulu before finally settling in Ombaci parish.
Workshop from shambles
One of the key marks of Br Andama has been the revamping of the parish workshop. It is still made up of a rather old building with large ventilations and broken glass windows.
Heavy carpentry machinery is arranged across this large hall as a crucifix hangs at the entrance wall.
Piles of saw dust and a few products in the making are placed randomly in the room
Br Andama says the machines require a great load of electricity to run. The old tiled roof is supported by heavy tree stems, a typical suggestion of an old fashioned roofing system.
From this large hall we are taken to the next room, a narrow dark room where scores of final touches are done before becoming the final intended product.
Chairs, doors, church pews, tables and many other products nearing competition are arranged here, our final stage is another room with the finished set awaiting collection by those who place orders for them.
Chairs for a nursery school, a lazy Suzan turntable sets, door frames etc. it’s easy to tell how busy this carpentry workshop is judging from our short tour.
Our next stop after the carpentry is at the metal workshop, we find an old man probably in his late 70’s. Br Andama says he is the main brain behind the revamping of the tractors.
Other members at the metal workshop we find are busy doing different welding works.
Br Andama laughs sarcastically as he recalls the awful state in which he found the technical workshop two years ago.
From tools to dilapidated buildings, choking debts to staffing gaps, the problems, Br Andama says were numerous at the start.
“The workshop was in shambles, I went to the Reverend father and borrowed sh20m to buy the tools I wanted to start with,” Br Andama says.
Luckily he got a big contract shortly that helped him settle all the debts and even those that he says he knew nothing about.
He set for himself a task to transform the workshop from being a burden on the Christian community who paid for its workers into a self-sustaining enterprise.
Br Andama says his ultimate dream is to see the school drop-outs benefit from the workshop and cause change of mind-set in those who have made mairungi chewing and begging for freebies as hobbies.
Under his watch, Ombaci parish now boasts of small demo plots for Bananas, pigs, passion fruits, Pine apples, rabbits, maize, and a cross section of other fruits and vegetables.
“I am only driven by passion and have never stepped in an agricultural class,” Br Andama assures us. He says his only learning visit was to Dr Emma Naluyima‘s farm where he picked a few tips on Pig rearing.
“Back then, the community had a negative perception that the soils in this area were not good for Bananas but I persisted, after seeing the produce they are also embracing banana farming,” he says.
Bro Andama says Rev. Fr. Tonino Passolini, the director of the diocesan media centre gets the credit for the quick markets.
“When I came here, Fr Tonino who is also a Comboni missionary asked if I am able to make pews for the cathedral to which I said yes. Some members tried to oppose him but Fr Tonino stood his ground,” he narrates.
He was backed by bishop Sabino Ocan Odoki when he eventually inspected the workshop. He would later make a tabernacle and an ambo for the cathedral.
The stand-out products, Br Andama says have further helped to market the products from Ombaci carpentry workshop.
Br Andama has repaired two tractors at the parish that had been idle for years. He plans to use them on the farm as he goes into large scale production drive. Maize and sun flower are the key crops largely to feed the pigs.
His target is to fatten 200 pigs by the end of 2019 and earn a minimum of sh50m from sale of pigs alone.
“I want to show people here that poverty is in the mind, where we are, I always tell the workers I came to Ombaci poor but I will leave when I am rich,”