Who We Are
What began as the friendship between two priests has grown to unite two parish communities oceans apart.
In 2011-2012 Fr. Wilfred Bwezani Phiri met Fr. Jerry Gunderson while completing studies in Pastoral Theology at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Upon his return to Zambia, Fr. Wilfred accepted the challenge of establishing a new parish in the Luangwa River Valley. The new Chikwa Parish encompasses a vast rural area in the Muchinga Province of Zambia.
After visiting Zambia, Fr. Jerry returned to Mary Seat of Wisdom Parish, Park Ridge, Illinois. Under his leadership the parish focused its annual Lenten Almsgiving on developing financial support for projects the new pastor and his parishioners were undertaking.
In consecutive years Fr. Wilfred visited Mary, Seat of Wisdom connecting the two parishes as partners in evangelization.
"Friends of Chikwa Parish NFP" has developed from these roots as generous supporters of Fr. Wilfred and his mission, proud of what has been accomplished and inspired to do even more.
Where is Chikwa Parish ?
The new Chikwa Parish is in the Luangwa River Valley of the Diocese of Chipata in Chama District of Muchinga Province of Zambia. It is an isolated rural area due to a lack of paved roads and lack of electricity. The area is characterized by brutal temperatures, insufficient clean water, chronic hunger, extreme poverty and insufficient social services. Local residents have been inspired by Fr. Wilfred Bwezani Phiri, their pastor, to form a parish.
Chikwa Parish 2018-2023
Since 2017 Mary Seat of Wisdom Parish, Park Ridge, Illinois entered into partnership with the newly created Chikwa Parish in Zambia, an area prioritized for its need and potential for evangelization. Friends of Chikwa Parish NFP was created in 2021 to continue and expand the partnership.
The process of molding bricks for a new centrally located church for Chikwa Parish began in 2018. As of June 2023 the church is 80% finished. Completing Church construction will require window and door frames, window glass, and interior furnishings. "The intention we had at the very beginning," says Fr. Wilfred, "to bring everyone together to work for this church has really materialized and is bearing fruit. The community of Chikwa is growing as one family. People from all the outstations came to work. The church belongs to them. The involvement of everyone in working together cemented good relationships among them. We can never grow as a parish unless we are together seeing ourselves as brothers and sisters."
The New Life Ward at Manga Rural Health Clinic
Zambia has a high maternal and infant mortality rate, especially in rural areas. A single room at the Manga Clinic served as the Labor Ward in 2018. The New Life Center was envisioned to improve maternal and infant health. It opened in 2023. Chikwa Parish and the Diocese of Chipata provide the facilities. The government provides staffing. Religious sisters are currently being sought for additional staffing. World Vision brought running water to the facility and built an Ablution Block with showers and warm water.
Clean Drinking Water
Lack of clean water is a serious problem in the Chikwa Area. Women wake up as early as 4 AM to go and fetch water. They also walk long distances with buckets full of water on their heads. School girls report late for classes because they must first secure this commodity. Patients seen at the Manga clinic suffer from water-born diseases. When initial drilling attempts resulted in dry wells, Fr. Wilfred oversaw the drilling of five wells in the neediest areas. His efforts to secure clean water are undaunted and led to the partnership with World Vision International.
World Vision's WASH Program
The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Project (WASH) was designed by World Vision to ensure that over 30,000 people from the two wards of the Chama District including Chikwa--along with 24 schools and 10 health care facilities--would have access to clean water, dignified sanitation, and healthy hygiene. The three year project started in January 2022.The project has five full-time staff: the project manager, two development facilitators responsible for all community-level implementation, a driver, and an accountant. WASH technical staff from the national office also support the project.
Feeding the Hungry
Friends of Chikwa Parish has created a fund to enable Fr. Wilfred and the Chikwa Parish to address basic human needs. These basic human needs include Food Security, Clean Drinking Water, Health Care, Education, Transportation, and Human/Animal Conflicts. Folks in Chikwa live side by side with animals in a game management area and pay a heavy cost for the protection of animals.