At the Sara Corbett Orphanage in Tanzania where he now teaches, St. Mary Star of the Sea's own Billy Bludgus takes a break from classes with some of his students. Bludgus was interviewed for this story via long-distance e-mail correspondence.
All the way to the East Coast of Africa, just south of the equator, to be specific.
Bludgus, who graduated last year from the University of Miami with a triple major in mathematics, secondary education and German, made upon graduation a two-year commitment with Jesuit Volunteers International. Aformer eucharistic minister at St. Mary Parish, he was introduced to the program during his high school years at St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City.
"It was the four components of social justice, spirituality, community and simple living that appealed to me greatly," Bludgus explained in a recent interview via e-mail correspondence.
"After applying to the program, Jesuit Volunteers International tries to place participants where their interests or talents may lie. They could have sent me anywhere, but they offered me placement in Tanzania which I excitedly accepted and now consider a true blessing," he said.
Bludgus is one of three Jesuit Volunteer International participants in the town of Dar es Salaam. They share a small house near Loyola High School where they work. The school has seven levels from "pre-form" one up to six. The levels are based on the British system where pre-form one would be akin to eighth grade, form one to four like high school, while forms three to six correspond to junior college in preparation for college.
The Bayonne native spent the last school year (January through to December) teaching 113 students English, math, science and "values education." In all, Loyola High School has nearly 1,000 students. He also coordinates the school's new community service and retreat programs.
When Bludgus first arrived in Africa, he decided to do something about the lack of books and supplies. Family and friends sent the needed materials and within a few months, a high school library was established. As one of the community service projects under his tutelage, Loyola students give their time to help children in local orphanages.
Another effort he launched was production of a music CD by the high school choir. It includes 14 eclectic selections, which blend Swahili, English and instrumental music. "Unfortunately I am not musically inclined, but the school choir CD (Shining Bright) was a great project. It epitomizes the theory of simply providing a 'jump-start' and then allowing people to use their own talents and skills to self-sustain. We were able to help the choir record the CD and mass-produce it to get them on their feet. With the money they have made off of it, they are able to not only give funds back to improve their school, but they will also be able to launch a second CD next year.
"Now in my second year, I am focusing on other areas and the Blue Hope Project and no longer teaching any classes at Loyola. I will teach at the Sara Corbet Orphanage School and tutor at the first orphanage we have set up in another part of the city. 'House of Blue Hope' will be the second orphanage and will be near Loyola High School and Sara Corbet." With those two facilities, he said, "we will be able to tackle the issue of orphaned/abandoned children from both ends of the city."
Tragically, he lamented, the orphan situation is huge in many East African cities and continues to get worse in Dar es Salaam. The death of parents from HIV/AIDS and other diseases, lack of funds to support children and domestic child abuse all contribute to children being orphaned, abandoned or running away from home, he said.
Blue Hope currently is a priority for Bludgus. To make it a reality, he is soliciting donations from individuals, groups and organizations (the complete project proposal is available online at mysite.verizon.net/vzenwrjd/tanzania).
Father Lawrence Miller, pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish, who has been instrumental in supporting Bludgus' mission the past year, called him "an incredible young man." Explaining he has know him since the third grade, Father Miller stressed that Bludgus "helped out quite a lot" at the parish for many years.
Saying he was one of the parish's "most faithful altar servers," the pastor remembered fondly that when an altar server was needed at the last minute, young Bludgus could always be counted on to participate. Father Miller cited the young man as striking evidence of the Beatitudes.
To date, about one-third of the project's $72,000 price tag has been raised. It will cost $45,000 to construct the building. Furnishings and utilities are estimated at another $10,000. Last month the land was purchased.
Those looking to make a donation can send checks, payable to "House of Blue Hope," to St. Mary Star of the Sea, 326 Avenue C, Bayonne, NJ 07002. Alternately, donations, payable to Jesuit International Mission, can be sent to the mission at 7303 West Seven Mile Rd., Detroit, MI 48221. In each instance write "Blue Hope" in the check memo space.
To order the music CD mentioned by Bludgus in this article send an e-mail to Tanzaniaproject@aol.com or call (201) 858-3942 and leave a message. Payments, payable to St. Mary, can be mailed to 334, Avenue A, Bayonne, N.J. 07002.