La Reina teen hands over $3,650 for access to safe drinking water in Uganda

With the landmark steeple of Camarillo’s St. Mary Magdalen Chapel behind her, 18-year-old Emelia Reinoso marked the end of her journey to give students in Africa access to safe drinking water.

As Reinoso handed over a check for $3,560, the La Reina High School senior was surrounded by people who inspired her generosity and commitment to the cause. Michael Ronan was her former principal at St. Mary Magdalen School, and Sister Lisa Megaffin has visited the community in Buseesa, Uganda, that will benefit from Reinoso’s efforts.

“It was so special because it’s something I’ve been working towards for months,” Reinoso said about the March 10 check presentation and a service at the church, where she spoke about raising the funds by collecting donations from students and their parents.

Reinoso said that even though she came up with the idea, it’s the generous students at her former and current schools who deserve credit.

“To be able to unify a community in hopes of achieving one common goal I think is something really beautiful,” she said.

Hearing about the challenges of finding water in Africa made Reinoso and the other students realize how lucky they are to live here.

“Especially in California we take water for granted so much,” she said. “I’ve left faucets on and never really had regard for it until I realized how scarce it was.”

The Camarillo resident said she feels a strong connection to students in Africa, even though she’s never met them in person, because students there are as passionate about education as she is.

But Reinoso learned that sometimes students need to be sent home when there’s no reliable water at their school.

“Without this resource it’s kind of impossible to focus on being able to learn,” she said.

Megaffin is a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame of the United States, which has ministries in 18 countries, including St. Julie Mission in Uganda. She provides outreach to schools including the ones Reinoso has attended.

The mission in Uganda was founded in 1995, and Megaffin traveled there in 2003. People lived in mud huts and relied on subsistence farming when she visited, and most of them were illiterate, she said.

Schools were rudimentary. Some classrooms had only a couple of benches inside and few books, Megaffin said.

Since the ministry’s founding, a more modern school built by the sisters has grown to 700 students.

But water has always been an issue.

“The availability of water, let alone clean water, has always been a huge challenge. So over the years we installed tanks to gather the rainwater from the roof,” Megaffin said.

“The tanks were not always that reliable. They would explode, so you’d lose the water and you’d lose the tank.”

Part of the problem in Uganda, she said, is that there are basically two seasons, rainy and dry. If the rainy season isn’t wet enough, the water in the tanks runs out. Sometimes students would need to spend half the school day walking to far-away wells, which was not a good use of their time, Megaffin said.

Starting in 2017, the sisters conducted research on potential well sites near the school. A well was dug and produced its first water in 2020.

But the nuns learned the system needed more work to make the water safe.

“Emelia’s project will help us really finish it off in terms of getting a filtration system, because they’ve discovered that the water that comes up still needs to be purified for drinking and cooking,” Megaffin said. “So it’s kind of like the icing on the cake.”

The students who donated not only helped those in Africa, but also learned a spiritual lesson, the sister said.

“To be part of transformation is what we all need. There’s a great joy in giving. There’s an adage that goes, ‘When people support others, people give to others, the person that’s really enriched is the giver more than the receiver,’” she said.

Ronan said he was happy to be involved in the effort and the opportunity for his students at St. Mary Magdalen School to contribute.

“It really seemed like a perfect opportunity for us to help open their eyes to a global view and also support the good work,” the principal said. “It’s one thing to preach the faith, but this is a great opportunity for the kids to put their faith into action.”

Article courtesy of the Camarillo Acorn Newspaper