A young, freckled-faced girl with red hair from Texas with only a high school education may seem an unlikely person for God to call to potentially dangerous work in a remote village in eastern Africa — but God so often tends to work like that.
Rannah Evetts was baptized into the Catholic faith her senior year of high school and after finding peace in surrendering her life to God, she was sure that the love she had mysteriously always had in her heart for Africa was being stirred. Shortly after graduation she hopped on a plane to Uganda, where she worked for the next seven months establishing a school for the deaf in Uganda’s capital city of Kampala. Evetts was horrified to learn first-hand of the treatment of the deaf children there, which she had soberly reported on her school project in Texas. One little boy in particular was kept tied to a tree like a family pet, and made to eat scraps of food, insects, and even his own feces.
Most Americans are aware that deafness must come with some level of isolation from the rest of society. Thankfully though, for most American deaf children there are options for education in sign language and the majority of Americans understand deafness as a medical condition which impairs hearing. This impairment in no way reduces the dignity or value of the deaf child as a human person.
In Uganda, however, because of the lack of medical knowledge and the deep-seated tribal and superstitious influences, deaf children are understood to be a curse and shame upon the family. They are referred to as “things” and they are often treated as such. Options for education for deaf children in Uganda are slim to none, and many families believe their deaf children are incapable of learning, even if it were to be offered. Due to the severe poverty of many of the villages where Evett’s school is located in Uganda, deaf children are more likely to be caught up in violence, sexual abuse, and prostitution.
While she was there, Evetts was most moved by the witness of the unfathomable transformation of these deaf children once they were taken in by the boarding schools and given language and an education. They were not only seen as human beings and treated with dignity, but they were set free from their darkness — a darkness that Evetts herself had also known. Carrying her own crosses of isolation due to suffering sexual abuse at an early age and countless years of depression, self-loathing, and suicidal thoughts, Evetts saw clearly her purpose and answered the call of deep longing in her heart to serve the deaf children God would place before her.
Evetts discerned with the local priest and the ordinary, Bishop Sanctus Lino Wanok, that she should start her own Catholic school for deaf children. In 2016, at the age of 21, she was given permission — and a building — by the bishop to start what has become St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf in a remote village in the northwest corner of Uganda. With help from donors at her home parish in Texas, Evetts was able not only to welcome almost 50 students, but also to offer catechesis and sacramental preparation to the children. One of the priests is even being taught sign language to open the sacrament of confession to deaf children there.
St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf is now in its third year of a five-year grant, with 47 primary students, four secondary students, and six adults in the vocational/young adult program. With the school at maximum capacity, Evetts was in tears as she told me how many students they have simply had to turn away for lack of means to serve them.
Last year, St. Francis operated on the shockingly low budget of $3,600/month. Yet sanitation is poor and many students still suffer illness due to water issues and poor diet. Rannah’s priorities are increasing sanitation measures as well as providing clean water and better food for her students.
The school was recently given 23 acres by the bishop, who has seen its great fruits in the community. Evetts has already begun taking steps to build a boarding school for 300 kids on the property, including facilities such as a church, staff house, and farming/gardening area.
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