From vacation to medical mission


In July of 2012, a small group of parishioners from St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Sicklerville joined their parochial vicar, Father Vincent Orum, on a two-week trip back to his home village of Giira, Uganda. The purpose of the trip was to attend the ordination of Father Orum’s nephew into priesthood within the order of the Apostles of Jesus.
Dick and Marie Schmitt, who were seasoned travelers and had visited Africa in the past, thought this would be a reason for a return vacation to that continent, in addition to learning more about the area and the culture in which Father Orum grew up.
While the Schmitts may have thought that their trip to Paidha, Uganda, was just a vacation with their parish priest, they came home to find that an opportunity to serve the people of Paidha followed them back to New Jersey. They now have a long-term goal to send a medical mission team on an annual basis and eventually semi-annual basis providing a brighter future to those less fortunate.
Throughout their two weeks in Giira and the surrounding area, the parishioners were astonished at the living conditions and poverty of this region: children wore rags, most people lived in thatched huts or small shacks with no running water or electricity, and “roads” were dirt tracks.
At a dinner on their last night in Giira, Dick and Marie had the opportunity to talk with the mayor of the town of Paidha, a small town in northwestern Uganda about a mile from Father Orum’s home village of Giira. Discussion centered on the high unemployment rate and the lack of a medical doctor in the town.
A friendship developed between the Schmitts and the mayor as they talked for hours about the differences in the standards of living in South Jersey and northern Uganda, and the evening ended with them exchanging contact information. About a month after returning to the United States, Dick and Marie received a surprise email from the mayor requesting help in getting a doctor for the town.
“We were overwhelmed by his request,” says Marie, “but after seeing the conditions, we were also motivated. We felt we had to do something.”
With no prior experience in setting up mission trips, much less a medical mission trip, the Schmitts became immersed in the search for medical help for this small town, driven by the fact that there are no doctors in, or even close to, the town of Paidha.
The medical services that they have are very limited with a small staff of eight nurses and two lab assistants serving 300,000 people in the town and surrounding villages at a five-room medical center.
The health center provides very basic services such as first aid, treatment of minor ailments and common diseases, but the closest hospital and doctor is 18-20 miles away – and the travel is not easy. There are no paved roads and no ambulances to transport the very ill or for emergencies.
Dick and Marie started talking about their desire to bring medical care to this region of Uganda with fellow parishioners, friends and acquaintances. They met people who knew of other medical mission trips and connected them with Samaritan Healthcare and St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Orefield, Pa. Both Samaritan and STJW had recently completed medical mission trips to Uganda and Haiti, respectively. The request for medical care now seemed possible to fulfill, and Dick and Marie decided to strike out on their own and build a medical team and mission group to go to Paidha.
Since last spring when they started recruiting medical volunteers, they were able to assemble a group of three doctors, one nurse practitioner, two registered nurses, two medical technicians, and three people with administrative/managerial expertise. Several are St. Charles’ parishioners (Pat Williams, Linda Jobes, Mary Guy, Ann Guy and the Schmitts), but other medical staff joining them is from as far away as Florida and Maine.
All are traveling on their own personal time and at their own expense. The two-week trip will have them depart at the end of May and return in mid-June. They have all purchased their airfare, paid for lodging, completed their immunizations, and gotten their visas and passports. Now they are trying to raise some money for the medical supplies that they want to bring to Uganda. St. Charles Borromeo Parish is helping with this, as the proceeds from their annual St. Patrick’s Day party this year will be donated to purchasing medical supplies and equipment for the mission trip.
The objective of the medical team is to treat what is treatable and help prevent certain conditions from worsening. They plan on doing this by providing medical evaluations, appropriate medication where necessary, as well as information regarding the medical condition being treated.
To learn more about the Medical Mission, please contact Dick or Marie Schmitt, 856-435-1629, email: