Local ‘friends’ organize to offer help and hope to needy in Tanzania

"Rafikii" means "friend" in Swahili, so Rafiki Wa Bukoba means "Friends of Bukoba." Dan and Dr. Jeane Smith of Peoria established the foundation after a trip to Tanzania in 2011.

People who visit the remote villages of Tanzania in East Africa won’t find the World Bank or multinational corporations doing business. What they will see is the church, which has provided a foundation in faith, as well as health care and education for more than 100 years.

Father Deus-Dedit Byabato, who grew up in Kilimilire, Tanzania, is the spiritual adviser for the Rafiki Wa Bukoba Foundation. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“Back home, the people are very poor. They don’t have any income. The only hope they have is the church,” said Father Deus-Dedit Byabato, who grew up in that poverty in Kilimilire, in the Diocese of Bukoba.

To keep that hope alive, Father Deus has the help of the Rafiki Wa Bukoba Foundation and the parishioners of the Diocese of Peoria. The longtime chaplain at OSF HealthCare St. Mary Medical Center in Galesburg and pastor at St. Aloysius Parish in Wataga is grateful for both.

“Rafiki” means “friend” in Swahili, so Rafiki Wa Bukoba means “Friends of Bukoba.” According to Dr. Jeanne Smith of Peoria, president and co-founder, the organization works to raise funds to assist in four key areas:

  • St. Joseph Hospital in Kagondo, which was established by the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis in Springfield. The goal is to add a school to train people to provide medical care in surrounding villages.
  • Nikolaushaus Children’s Center in Kemondo, a home for orphaned, disabled and vulnerable children.
  • Kilimilire Primary School, which enrolls about 700 students and has 10 teachers. They instruct the children, often without necessary supplies like books, pens and paper, Smith said, adding that children sit on the floor because there are no desks.
  • Water projects. It is difficult to maintain water pumps, since materials aren’t readily available to repair them when they break, according to Jerry Sanderson, a member of the Rafiki Wa Bukoba board and associate superintendent for the Office of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Peoria. The solution proposed by Father Deus is to place gutters on the roof of Holy Cross rectory in Kilimilire, for example, to collect rainwater.

“When you capture water from the roof, it’s a very simple system,” Sanderson said. “It’s easy to maintain and it’s going to be available indefinitely to supply water.”

This water is not just for parish use, Father Deus emphasized, but for the whole village.


Rafiki Wa Bukoba grew out of the relationship Jeanne and Dan Smith developed with Father Deus when he filled in at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights. At that time he was serving as assistant chaplain at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria and as he got to know the Smiths, he told them about the conditions that existed in his village.

Co-founders and officers of the Rafiki Wa Bukoba Foundation are Dr. Jeanne and Dan Smith of Peoria. With them here is their daughter Jemaria. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“Father Deus asked us to come to Tanzania with him to see, to witness for ourselves the need and the poverty. At that time we were already talking about how we, as individuals, could possibly help him,” said Jeanne Smith, who practices internal medicine. “We thought it would be good to go and see for ourselves. In 2011, we did.”

By 2015, the couple had founded and incorporated Rafiki Wa Bukoba. The board also includes Lisa Sanderson of Peoria, vice president; Dan Smith, secretary; and Traci Smith of Galesburg (no relation to Jeanne and Dan), treasurer.

Father Deus had already built Holy Cross Church in Kilimilire on the 10 acres of land his father left him. The priest added a large rectory that is used for religious education and meetings and is the parish hall.

Churches have also been built in Kibeo, which was dedicated in 2016, and Bweyendezi, which was consecrated in February, while Father Deus was making his annual home visit. That day there were also five weddings, 50 baptisms and a large number of confirmations.

“The church is not the building. The church is the people,” he explained. “So yes, we’re blessing the building, but it’s important for people to realize the celebration is about the sacraments.”

Father Deus is now working to build a Catholic school at Holy Cross in Kilimilire. It already has 50 students and construction continues as money becomes available.

The main reason for establishing the school is to give the children a firm foundation in the faith. “If the foundation is strong, then you know the future will be great. I believe that,” he said.


In addition to Rafiki Wa Bukoba, Father Deus extended his thanks to Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, and Msgr. Paul Showalter, vicar general, and the people of the Diocese of Peoria, for supporting his work. The mission appeals he has made at parishes like Blessed Sacrament in Morton and St. Patrick Church of Merna in Bloomington have played an important role in what has been accomplished, he said.

Chilidren sit on the floor of a school in Kilimilire, Tanzania, because they have no desks. Books, paper and pencils can also be hard to come by, something the Rafiki Wa Bukoba Foundation, based in Peoria, hopes to address. (Provided photo)

He also expressed his gratitude to Bishop Jenky for assigning him to the Wataga parish, saying he enjoys the balance of pastoral ministry at OSF HealthCare St. Mary and parish ministry at St. Aloysius. Not only is there joy in this, but doing both has helped him in his priesthood, according to Father Deus.

The work on behalf of the people of the Diocese of Bukoba continues. Jeanne Smith said it is necessary “because we share humanity with them. They are our brothers and sisters.”

Rafiki Wa Bukoba needs more people to develop the foundation and help with fundraising. Those who are interested may contact her at instantfamily@yahoo.com or FriendsofBukoba@gmail.com.


The Knights of Columbus, Spalding Council No. 427, will hold a fish fry and bake sale to benefit Rafiki Wa Bukoba on Friday, Nov. 17. It will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. in the clubhouse at 7403 N. Radnor Road in Peoria.

SPALDING PASTORAL CENTER | 419 NE MADISON AVENUE | PEORIA, IL 61603 | PHONE (309) 671-1550 | FAX (309) 671-1595
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