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Chicopee minister returns from Africa

By Helen Collier, Special to The Chicopee Herald

CHICOPEE Like many people Minister Kelly Gallagher of Christ Community Church of Chicopee and two other church parishioners went on a trip this summer, but their trip was to Africa to tour the Kenyan and Sudanese borders.

They did not do this just to be tourists. Gallagher said, "We want to start helping these people rebuild their lives, especially those that were directly affected by the Darfur conflict."

Darfur is the western part of Sudan, which was literally ripped a part by three militant groups in a complex and mostly misunderstood war. Sadly because of this confusing war "between 200,000-400,000 or more are dead and 2,500,000 refugees left wondering their neighboring countries," Gallagher reported.

Once Gallagher and her team flew in to Nairobi, Kenya, they set out to look for organizations to help point the best route in to the southern part of Sudan. They did this while also trying to get film footage of daily local life for their parent organization Church Ecumenical Action in Sudan. (C.E.A.S.)

The organizations plans on using the footage taken to put together a documentary get other ministers motivated and prepared to help the central African country in one common missionary goal.

This effort is also allied with what Lutheran World Relief and Action by Churches Together and many other organizations are doing as well.

Luckily, Gallagher and her team were greeted well by fellow church organizations both in Nairobi and along their way into Juba, a city that is located directly in the southern most part of Sudan and one of many areas that had be most tragically affected by the wars as well.

Gallagher spoke of what she remembers of their stay in Juba. "Juba is a 'big city' now, but it has gotten too big. too fast, even though there are hardly any tall buildings at all. But the surge of population is not with actual Sudanese citizens, but of drastic populations of world help organizations that have flocked to Juba in their own efforts to help."

"That would sound like a great thing, but it has caused inflation.and the little guy in the country's money can not contend with foreign currency right now." Gallagher said with a sad tone.

Here in the U.S. it isn't uncommon to see people carelessly live their lives not worried about simple things such as food, water, or shelter. But now Gallagher and company brought a message that ".the world is cruel and cold in other parts of the world..and the search for simple clean water is a constant issue many face."

She especially emphasized how bad the land of the southern Sudan is, where the Sudanese people face draught and famine, which are as rampant as the pestilence, and disease.

The problems the people face in the Sudan are painstaking, and daily survival there "seems almost supernatural," she said. She noted the children still go to school everyday that they can, but not all of them of course can attend to go to school because of finances. The kids that do make it hardly ever have any books or tools to learn from, "and a hundred or more would be seen cramming themselves into a class rooms fit for a class size of 20 kids, in U.S. standards," Gallagher stated.

Then at the end of the school day they go home to help their mothers or fathers keep house, find food, and protect themselves. This way of life is standard to the refugees of the Darfur conflict, who has in the past found their refuge within the Ethiopian and Kenyan borders.

"But not for much longer, now that the war has stopped. They must go home," Gallagher said.

"Home" would normally be considered a good thing, but to these people it is an uncertain fate. Whereas these wondering people found not only rest in the refugee camps, but they also found the clean water, food, schooling and the help they needed, along with vital health care. Now they must go back to their towns which are in ruin, and where the schools and books are no longer there.

Gallagher answered why the refugees can't stay where they are now.

"Well it would be like if New York came and took refuge in Springfield, We could not sustain them for a long period of time with out sacrificing our own living. The sewers alone would not be able to handle it," she said.

The rebuilding of the refugees' homes and villages is "too expensive so progress is real slow," Gallagher said. "Remember the prices are inflated for building materials, along with everything else."

Through UNICEF, and other organizations like the one with which Gallagher and her church works, there are programs to help the refugees. One programs helps continue the education the children have received in the camp schools.

"But the hope still lies with in a plan to keeping the new generations educated by sending current up-to-date text books," Gallagher said.

Gallagher and The Community Church of Christ will be supporting this effort by raising funds through a book sale. and the church is looking for book donations to not only sell at their book sale but to also send over to needy schools in Africa. No encyclopedias can be accepted.

They plan on conducting the next book sale on the Aug 4 at 9a.m. to 2 p.m. at the church's location at 103 Springfield St.

"It would be a chance for everyone to participate at a more local level," Gallagher said.