After visiting parish communities on Sunday, on Monday 10 Fr John spent the whole day at Oaklands Secondary School in Waterlooville. Pupils and RE teacher Mugeni Sumba had the privilege to meet Fr John last year when they visited Kenya with CAFOD.
It was a really inspiring day – Mr Sumba sent us this report!
“Today was a very special day for students and staff at Oaklands Catholic School and Sixth Form College in Waterlooville. It was special because we were honoured to have Fr John Webootsa sharing with us his experiences of working with the poor people of the Korogocho slum in Nairobi. Fr John met several classes of students from Year 13 to Year 8 – from 9.15am to 3.30pm! It was a day that many of us who listened to him will remember for a long time.
He started all his talks by explaining what motivated him to become a priest – a visit to the Korogocho slum soon after finishing his High School education in Kenya in the early 1990s. He saw how people lived in abject poverty, but also witnessed how some Comboni Missionaries were trying to help them. When he went back to his family in Mombasa, he told them he wanted to be a priest and not join the Navy – his father was in the Navy and he had always dreamt of following in his father’s footsteps! His training for the priesthood took him first to Kampala in Uganda, then to Lima in Peru, where as part of his training he worked with the people who lived in the slums of Lima. After his ordination to the priesthood in June 2002, he was sent to work in Eritrea in the Horn of Africa. Here, he worked with people who found themselves in a very oppressive society with very limited personal freedom. His stay in Eritrea was cut short after 3 years when he was expelled by the government for being an advocate of people’s freedom. Of this experience, Fr John said, “I was sad to leave Eritrea because I really liked the work I was doing there. However, I was glad that I had been expelled because I had stood up for what I believed was right.
Back in Kenya, Fr John found himself back in Korogocho – the very place that made him think seriously about becoming a priest. Teaming up with other Comboni Missionaries, they started St John’s Sports Society to help give the young people of Korogocho an alternative way of life, away from gangs and criminal activity. He said that it was important that they offered an alternative – only telling or preaching to people telling them that gangs, drugs, prostitution, robbery are not good things is not enough – you have to offer them an alternative! And this is exactly what St John’s became – a place where you could go if you wanted to leave your ‘old bad life’ behind you and turn a new chapter. St John’s became an oasis of hope! Since then, hundreds of young men and women have mended their ways and chosen to lead clean lives. And it is not just sports that the people who go to St John’s engage in… Fr John told us that they had other programmes such as ghetto classical music group, Microfinance group, income generating groups like pig rearing and white charcoal production. And then there is the Rescue Centre, the place where children are taken when they decide to stop working on the dumpsite. These children use the very basic equipment, like lorry tyres as their springboard when doing somersaults.
Fr John said all these different programmes are running because people like ourselves are willing to give money to organisations like CAFOD. He thanked the Oaklands community (together with St Columba College in St Albans) for their support and showed pictures of the foundations of the new Gym Centre, which is currently under construction.
He finished off his talk by reminding us that of St John’s motto – ‘Pamoja tunaweza’ – ‘Together, we can’ make a difference. He challenged us to open our eyes to the needs of poor people and not just to give money, but to think of them as people who have been denied their dignity. One student asked Fr John how he makes sense of the poverty he lives in when he believes in a loving and almighty, all powerful God. His reply was, “We do not believe in an almighty all powerful God that will come to wipe out the bad people and reward the good. No, that is not the God we believe in. We believe in a God that walks with us, a God that is on our side, a God that lives with us. Why do we believe this? Because we can already see changes in our community – life is getting better for us. When we see communities here in the UK, like yours, deciding to help us, we know that we are not alone.”
At the end, he took questions from students – some very interesting ones on how life was in the school he and Mr Sumba attended in Kenya! As a community, we feel very blessed to have had Fr John visit us – may God continue to give him strength to stand up for the rights of the poor in our world”.
Our huge thanks goes to Fr John for visiting our diocese and to Mr Sumba, Oaklands school and the parish communities in Leigh Park and Waterlooville for their support! It has been a real privilege to have Fr John with us! 🙂