Uganda ‘Heroes’ Fulfill VSR Rep’s Destiny

Richard Gagne and his adopted daughter, Jovia

Richard Gagne and his adopted daughter, Jovia

Richard Gagne, VSR Rep in Beaumont, TX, believes he was destined to go to Uganda in Africa; to meet and become part of the lives of the people there who he says are the true heroes of the world. The story starts in 1961 when Richard was ? nishing high school in the “juniorate” of the Brothers of Christian Instruction, a Catholic order of teaching brothers, in Alfred, ME.

Richard Gagne and his adopted daughter, Jovia Richard Gagne and his adopted daughter, Jovia “I thought about becoming a teaching brother,” Richard said. “Had that been the case, I would likely have gone to their mission in Kisubi, Uganda and been in training there for a year or two.

“Later in business, I thought the success I had was attributable in good part to my high school education and the ? ve months I spent in the ‘juniorate.’ So I started donating money to the Brothers for their retirement.”

In 2000, Richard visited the Brothers in Alfred where he met Brother Francis Blouin who told him that the money he’d been sending for the Brothers’ retirement had been sent to Africa. “Noticing that I was a little irritated,” Richard said, “he explained to me that their (the Brothers’) needs are rather simple and that I should come with him to Uganda to see what the money had done.”

So Richard traveled to Uganda with Brother Francis in 2003.

“I got to go to Kisubi, Uganda, to that mission, 41 or so years later than I might have,” he said. “And I bene?ted a great deal by living among some of the poorest people in the world. I ? rmly believe that things don’t happen by accident in this life. There’s a reason for it.” Richard saw a water puri?cation plant that his donations had helped fund.

“I learned that Brother Francis is a very clever negotiator,” he said. “Any donation that I had made he had succeeded in getting matched or doubled by an organization in Montreal called Terres Sans Frontieres, which means countries without boundaries.”

Brother Francis took Richard to visit one of the Brothers’ schools, Bishop Comboni College (equivalent to a high school in the U.S.) in Kambuga in the south of Uganda near the border of The Congo. The school was “going under” according to Richard. The buildings were crumbling; tuition was mostly unpaid; and the teachers, who are native Brothers that the government is supposed to pay, were unpaid. There were no toilets or bathrooms, no running water, no sanitation. They had no electricity.

“So, I made a donation that Brother Francis got doubled,” Richard said. “Brother Francis is the one who really did the hard work.” He oversaw the building of a pit latrine system and other major improvements to the school. Richard has continued to make donations for speci? c projects in which the people would participate, usually in the form of labor.

“It was all done by hand, and was done by the teachers, the students whose tuition was unpaid, the parents of the students, and some of the Brothers from Kisubi. They were paid above the average wage ($1.55 a day for men, 75-cents for women and 25-cents for children or young adults). We paid them a dime more per day. The only thing that was not done by the people was the installation of a solar system (to provide electricity).”

“Now they have running water and the buildings all have their integrity,” Richard said. “They have a science lab and a library. The school is bursting at the seams and the tuition is all paid. Today they have 468 students. The students planted 11,000 trees. We gave them a few goats, they had only one goat. Today they have 138 goats.”

“The students say to me ‘Brother Richard we painted this wall;’ well they painted a wall that didn’t exist in 2003. They say ‘we put a new roof on that building’ and I told them I know I saw pictures. They say ‘come see all the trees we planted’ so I went with them for hours looking at the 11,000 trees they planted. They say ‘come see all the goats,’ so I went to the goat barn.

“It has really raised their self esteem because they did the physical work,” Richard said. The Bishop Comboni school is just one of many ongoing projects in which Richard is involved in helping the Brothers whose education compound in Kisubi serves as their home base in Uganda and houses an elementary school, a high school and the Uganda Martyrs University at Kisubi. Richard has helped with several of the buildings on the campus. The Richard and Sandy Gagne Residence on the Kisubi campus houses 22 nuns who are teachers and counselors.

“They actually have toilets and showers inside the building which thrilled them,” Richard said. “They expected an outdoor latrine system. “Instead of being spread out, now they can organize better having one home base. They can be more effective now and reach more people because of that.”

Richard is also involved with the Kisubi Orphans Project, founded about six years ago by Brother Claude Leroux and two native counselors, Fred and Margaret. Brother Claude is the last living member of a group of 40 Brothers who went to Uganda from the Canadian Province in 1966 and built the education compound where he teaches at one of the elementary schools. He has discovered a formula using Swedish bitters (for which Richard provides the money to buy) that he uses combined with sound nutrition to treat infants born with AIDS. In their spare time, the two counselors and Brother Claude go around to the villages in the area looking for infants born with AIDS.

“It has not only saved the lives of 399 infants, but they’re all very healthy now,” Richard said. “I got a motorcycle for Fred and Margaret two years ago because they would walk about six miles each evening. Now they can cover more territory faster and easier.”

A project where Richard says “I help a lot” is the Mbabaali Memorial School, which serves 242 children, about half of whom are orphans. “The true heroes there are people like James Kyeyune and his wife,” Richard said. James is the director of the Mbabaali Memorial School which was founded by his father. Seven years ago, James’ father died of AIDS – his mother had died of AIDS earlier.

“When his dad died he returned to Uganda with his wife and family and he took over the school,” Richard said. “He had accumulated the U.S. equivalent of $7,000. That’s huge for a man who was then 32. He had saved that. He poured it all into the school.” Continued on next page In the Spotlight: Gagne and Uganda Continued from previous page Counselors Margaret and FredFor Broker/Dealer Use Only VSR Financial Services, Inc. Page 11 August 21, 2009 James’ wife works to earn enough to feed herself, her husband, their children and 13 orphans they care for. “He (James) has taken no salary in seven years,” Richard said. “That’s why I’ll help.”

The school runs at a deficit so Richard has committed to paying the salaries of the teachers at the school. The orphans belong to what is called the Richard House, a building named for him. “Some of the students at the Mbabaali Memorial School are five and six years old and they’re taking care of a two or three-year old brother or sister because their parents are gone,” Richard said.

“The number one killer is malaria; it kills 10 times as many people as does AIDS. The life expectancy is 37 and the average age today in Uganda is 14½.”

James provides two meals a day for all the students. For the orphans that do not live at the school, which is about 100 of them who walk to the villages in the evening, he gives them each 1 ½ kilos of maize a week.

“That’s more than needed for one meal a day in the evenings,” Richard said. “But it’s an incentive for the people who give the orphans shelter in their mud huts. They can’t afford to feed them but they can afford to give them shelter and there’s extra food to feed the people in that family. So they will keep sheltering the orphan. “By the way, in the evening those children in the mud huts are near the center where there is a little ? re trying to read their books and study to learn,” he added.

A very special “hero” to Richard is his adopted daughter Jovia. “In Uganda, she is my daughter.” Richard said. “I’ve not adopted her legally per U.S. standards. It’s not needed. Maybe I’m more of? cially a sponsor but she does call me daddy. And she truly is a daughter, a very genuinely loving daughter. It’s a great relationship.”

Jovia is a Tutsi from Rwanda. She was rescued by Brother Claude Leroux during the genocide in 1994-95 when the Hutus killed half of the Tutsi, estimated at as many as 800,000. Jovia speaks seven languages including Rwandan, French, English, Swahili, Lungandan and two other dialects. “Coincidentally, French is her native language and it’s mine,” Richard said. “I’m French Canadian.” Richard helped Jovia get through high school and while she was working for two years at a little store in Entebbe. Now she’s a student at the Uganda Martyrs University and her goal is to teach and counsel youth. “I took care of her schooling. I still do,” Richard said. “I take care of her tuition, books, fees and what they call accommodations (room and board). I give her a little bit of spending money. She now has a work study job on campus.”