A budding relationship between a Ugandan priest, parishioners of the Cathedral of St. Helena and the Carroll College Chapter of Engineers Without Borders is working to help hundreds of Ugandans access clean water.

The Rev. Julius Bwowe of the Lady of Assumption Buyege Parish in Kampala, Uganda, visited Helena last week as he has done for nearly a decade. While hosted by Monsignor Kevin O'Neill, he spent his time visiting parishioners and other friends, meeting with Carroll faculty and fundraising for his African communities.

“We are cementing our relationship in town with the cathedral, with Carroll College, with the Knights of Columbus, with everyone who is interested,” Bwowe said of his visit. “I’m glad there is energy, a lot of energy -- the momentum is growing for Uganda and it’s wonderful.”

A chance meeting between Bwowe and Helena parishioner Matt Kuntz in Uganda led to an invitation to visit Helena nine years ago. “Father Julius” as he is widely known has returned every year since as Helena embraced helping their sister parish which serves 60,000 rural Africans.

“We’ve gone from a few people that were just interested in father’s work when he first started coming nine years ago,” said parishioner and board member of The Julius Foundation Marty Heller. “We went from that stage to a semi-formal committee, to a formal committee and now we have a foundation set up.”

The foundation formed more than a year ago facilitating projects including a new roof for the church and a rain water collection system.

“Now we’re so blessed that Carroll College has gotten involved with their Engineers Without Boarders program,” Heller said. “We hope to take it to the next level, which would be the actual implementation of the clean water wells for the area.”

Access to medical care and education is poor throughout the area, but access to clean water is the primary concern, Bwowe said. Wells have failed and surface water has been linked to sickness, he added.

Engineers Without Borders-USA Carroll College made its first trip to Kawango, a community of 350, in May to assess the needs and begin to develop solutions. The chapter already operates in Mexico, St. Lucia and Guatemala, but the relationship with Bwowe and the foundation opened up the opportunity for a project in Uganda, said faculty advisor John Scharf.

“The ultimate goal is to work with father and the people in the local community to improve quality of life for the people that live there,” he said. “But immediately the way we’re going to do that is to work with them to improve their water system.

“There’s been a calling for us to be with Father Julius in Uganda and the students are excited to develop and work on this long-term relationship.”

The goal is to supply water to each household and the Holy Trinity School, he said.

Between 30 and 40 Carroll students are Engineers Without Borders’ members. They work with professional mentors and faculty on international projects to learn about different cultures and develop professionally.

Many of the student members are not engineering students, Scharf explained, with majors including health care and international studies benefiting from the experience.

Political science and international relations senior Colby Smith is the Ugandan project leader. He became interested in the program to gain experience for his career goal of working for the federal Farm Service Agency.

“I’ve been overseas a few times beforehand, but never to east Africa,” he said. “Seeing the situation of people that live over there and being in position to make a difference was eye opening.”

The idea of getting in on the ground floor of a project appealed to Smith and working with the professional mentors and faculty including speaking at several town meetings provided value experience, he said.

During his visit Smith met excited and courteous people facing massive issues accessing clean water. The May assessment trip will be followed by a second in January as they prepare a list of alternatives for the community to choose from.

Although Smith will graduate before the project comes to fruition, he plans to stay updated on the progress.

“I’d really recommend for people to get involved internationally with Engineers Without Borders. It’s one of the most life changing things you can do,” he said.

Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 or tom.kuglin@helenair.com