When he was 18 years old, Centurio wore his first pair of shoes, during his last year of university.
He and his younger siblings had all become orphans years earlier, when his father was killed by Idi Amin, the military dictator and president of Uganda who was responsible for an estimated 100,000-300,000 deaths during his reign.
However, rather than allowing his family to become a burden to family and friends, Centurio went to school and became a soccer player, financially supporting his younger brothers and sisters. He attended several seminaries and later became a Catholic priest.
Now the Rev. Centurio Olaboro is not only a pastor for 39,000 Christians in Uganda but also a public speaker, advocating the need of hope for children throughout the world. In his free time, when not attending to the affairs of the church, the Rev. Olaboro says he cares for the orphans of Africa.
On Tuesday, he attended a dinner and lecture in honor of those children, with the United Nations Association of the USA at Sugarhouse Park. The UNA is a national association that campaigns on issues of global concern. The Rev. Olaboro was a guest speaker for the Salt Lake location last year, as well.
During the lecture, he asked all in attendance to ask themselves, "Will the world be a happy place for all or a sad place for many?"
There are at least 1.5 million children worldwide orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. As an orphan himself, the Rev. Olaboro has a great deal of compassion for those children and says he understands their need to feel there is hope in order to succeed and come back to help "their brothers and sisters."
The Rev. Olaboro's sister's life was such an example of success and service, which led him to become an advocate for orphaned children throughout the world.
His sister, Margaret Angoye, also had religious aspirations and went to a convent to become a nun. However, she was diagnosed with HIV and told to go back to her home. When she returned home, she couldn't be idle with so many people needing help, the Rev. Olaboro said. In 1992, Angoye started the Uganda Martyrs Orphans Project when she opened an orphanage with 39 children. In 1999, Angoye died from the effects of HIV.
The Rev. Olaboro said he knew he had to take over the orphanage and continue his sister's legacy.
"As a priest, with my responsibility, there are more that must be helped," he said.
Sixteen years since the Rev. Olaboro took over the orphanage, it now feeds, clothes, educates and shelters 1,407 orphans. The project places children in family homes to care for one another. However, some children have not been placed in a home and are cared for in an orphanage named in honor of Angoye, Ma's Orphans Providence Centre.
Life there continues to be a struggle, he said. "Every day there is a funeral, ... and children are left behind with no one to care for them. As a priest, they call me father. How can I sleep at night if I don't try my best to look after these children?"
The orphans are educated and have repeatedly earned top scores on government exams, according to a report by the project.
Recent legislation in Uganda mandates that every child attend school. However, the Rev. Olaboro
said, with every child attending school, there aren't enough desks, books, buildings or funds to pay the teachers. Still, he said, the children need education, however crowded it may be.
"They excel," he said. "They struggle with all their energies. They see the hope. For them, education opens opportunity to them."
The Rev. Olaboro recapped the U.N. Millennium Development Goals for the world by 2015, including eradicating poverty, achieving universal education, eliminating gender disparity, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development.
While these goals are impressive, the Rev. Olaboro said, "I die soon. ... I want to see good things happen in my own time. We are the ones who must make that change. If we wait for the governments, it will be a long time."
He urged world citizens "to cease to be of Uganda, to cease to be of Africa, to cease to be of the U.S., and to say 'I am of the world."'When people see themselves as a part of a larger organization than their current situation, the Rev. Olaboro said, "it gives the world hope."
E-mail: [email protected]