Greetings from Africa! It is hard to believe that I’ve been here in Tanzania for over a year now. It has been both an amazing and transforming experience for me. When I first arrived at Mji Wa Huruma (the Home of Compassion) in December 2008, there was a sense within me that this is where I was meant to live, among the poor, homeless and forgotten people. There are approximately 100 people here who are physically, mentally challenged, those who are HIV positive, those cured of leprosy (Hansen’s Disease), street kids, homeless men and women as well as orphans. We have become like family here, helping each other day after day.
After the election of Barack Obama as the first African American president in American history, the people here were so jubilant and proud that a man of African heritage was going to the White House (so was I happy as well!). Very often we would chant and sing, “Obama, Obama!!”
Whenever our folks, and especially the children, would see me, we would always dance and sing to the words, “Obama, Obama is president USA.” What then began to happen was that they began calling me Father Michael Obama. Sure they did not know my last name as well as being American, they thought it was appropriate to call me “Father Mike” or just “Obama.” One of our mentally challenged people named Tomasi Tendele, whenever he sees me, breaks out into a big smile and says, “Obama.”
About two months ago, one of our homeless women named Pendo (which means “love” in Kiswahili) gave birth to her second child. Pendo had been living with her grandmother nearby in a small village. After an argument in the family, she was told to leave and just kept wandering for months from village to village. She was sexually abused and beaten by various men, finally coming to live with us here at our home, being five months pregnant and having nowhere else to go. We welcomed her with open arms and she feels at home with us as part of our family. After the birth of her child, she decided that she wanted to have her new baby boy baptized. We decided to baptize the baby on Easter Sunday. As the time arrived for the day of baptism, I asked Pendo what will be the name of the child. She looked at me and said smiling, “Michael Obama”. So we baptized him along with two other children, Lucia and Alexis, on a beautiful sunny Easter Sunday.
Here in this place called Mji Wa Huruma, we recognize the value and dignity of each person as a special gift of God to us. We celebrate that gift in a never ending prayer of gratitude to God for bringing us together in this home of compassion.
With love and prayers,
Michael (Obama) Bassano
(Editor’s note: Father Mike Bassano, a native of Binghamton, is a Maryknoll Missionary)