Father Robert’s Story
Co-Founder & Board Member
I am Reverend Father Robert Seraph Aliunzi, AJ, born and raised in Uganda but now naturalized as an American citizen. I am also a missionary priest belonging to the Apostles of Jesus Religious Order. Currently, I am the Pastor of St. Andrew the Apostle in Chandler, Arizona, and previously served for eight years as the Dean of the Northwest Deanery and another eight years in the Presbyterian Council and College of Consultors in the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona. I’m so excited to have the opportunity to introduce you to E3 Africa, an organization committed to educating the orphaned, impoverished, and often forgotten of God’s children.
In a country that has a history of poverty and rural devastation, I am excited that hundreds of Ugandan students are now finding their lives transformed through education provided by loving sponsors of E3 Africa. There was a time when these children would never have dared to dream of a life beyond subsistence. Still, through the educational opportunities provided to them by E3 Africa sponsors, they can now plan productive futures and ways in which to contribute toward the economic and social transformation of their communities and their own lives.
E3 Africa was born out of my personal life experiences. Raised in a family of ten children, we lost our father when I was five years old and my mother a year later. My oldest teenage brother became head of the family and eventually found a way to send me to school. But the most productive and sensitive years of my youth were marred by hunger, sickness, fear, threats to my life, expulsion from school, and extreme isolation and loneliness. These experiences created a profound sense of loss that haunted me for many years.
Reflecting, however, I came to realize that these experiences were blessings from God that taught me about compassion, love, forgiveness, and understanding. I also realized that had it not been for the intervention of many kind people along the way, I would never have been able to acquire my seminary education and become a priest. My childhood experiences shaped my adult world and created in me a passion for helping other orphans. They helped to define my priesthood in no small way and “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that, you do unto me” (Mt.25:40), became my inspiration.
In gratitude, I began paying the tuition and living expenses of other Ugandan orphans who were so like me. In 2004, I was sent by my religious order to the United States and assigned to Saint Thomas Aquinas parish in Avondale, Arizona as an Associate Pastor. Six months later, I was appointed by the bishop as the Pastor of St. James Parish in Glendale. Later in 2004, a branch was established in Uganda and was known as EENU, a registered Non-Governmental Organization (NGO.) It was at St. James that a parishioner named Rosalie Weller and I established Efforts to Educate the Needy Children of Uganda (EENU-USA, Inc.). And with much support of the parishioners of St. James, the church adopted it as their Outreach Ministry. A year later, under the advice of Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, the organization became a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization called EENU-USA, Inc. In 2013, we rebranded our organization, E3 Africa, to reflect our mission of Educating, Enriching, and Empowering the youth in Uganda.
From its inception, the goal of E3 Africa has been to provide educational opportunities for secondary students through funding and sponsorship. Today we have hundreds of children’s education being sponsored by some fantastic people from the United States, with more children on the waiting list for this same incredible opportunity. E3 Africa also has a Board of Directors in Uganda, apart from the board here in the United States. Joseph Ambayo, our Ugandan Executive Director, manages the ground operations after years of volunteering his time to E3 Africa. As a former secondary school teacher and school administrator, Joseph has a solid understanding of the Ugandan educational system, teen psychology, and behavioral attitudes. Being raised as an orphan himself, he has a great passion for helping children.
Joseph has developed a strong relationship with the personnel of the schools that E3 Africa students attend. He has developed career guidance and counseling seminars for the students and their guardians. He monitors the progress and behavior of each student through personal visits to their respective schools. The focus of E3 Africa is to develop educated, psychologically healthy young adults, capable of becoming productive citizens and leaders of Uganda. By bringing the students together, they are learning to deal with their differences and conflicts in productive ways. They are learning to appreciate that they are all “one people” who can live peacefully together through Joseph’s promotion of the “E3 Africa Family”. This vision is particularly crucial because most of these students are orphans who have suffered years of conflicts arising from tribal, ethnic, and religious differences.
Having experienced the loss of parents, siblings, and other family members, these children often struggle with issues of abandonment and hopelessness. By building an E3 Africa family, we help our students to develop an identity, self-awareness, and self-confidence; they now belong. This attitude is much appreciated by the educators of the students as being a uniquely E3 Africa quality and is credited with helping our E3 Africa students achieve a 98% success rate in being promoted to the next educational level.
Student sponsorship is essential to our ability to educate poor, rural Ugandan youth. We are always interested in joining up with persons and organizations with interest in education, business, and international affairs to work with us on our Board of Directors and Sponsorship, School Construction, Fundraising, Finance, Communications, and Board Development committees. Currently, we are building our secondary school, St. Thomas Aquinas College, in Moyo, northern Uganda, where all our students will be educated. A multipurpose hall, three classroom buildings, two girls’ and boys’ dormitories, a chapel, a kitchen, a science laboratory, and a cafeteria has already been constructed, and we are set to reopen our school in January 2022 with an initial intake of 400 students. We still have four more classroom blocks, a library, an information technology center and administration building, and medical clinic to build to accommodate the 800 students we hope to enroll eventually.
I share our successes, hopes, and dreams with you in anticipation that you will be inspired to join us in the warm glow of satisfaction that one receives from helping those so much less fortunate.
In Loving Memory of E3 Africa’s Co-Founder, Mama Rosalie Weller: February 13, 1932-August 16, 2021
A Message from Father Robert Aliunzi: Rosalie was a powerful force for good in the world, working tirelessly to help the less fortunate. Her commitment to the vulnerable children of Uganda earned their love and the title of “Mama Rosalie,” a name after which our first girls’ dormitory at our school, St. Thomas Aquinas College, is named. In her last days, she reminded us that E3 Africa has been God’s mission and that she and I are merely instruments, that He has guided and supported us from the beginning till now, and that we should always be grateful to God.
Words of Wisdom: My Passion, My Joy by Rosalie Weller
Have you ever wondered why you have so much, and there are so many people in the world who have so little? These were thoughts that kept echoing through my head when two “potentially life-altering” family events ended on a happy note. On Christmas Eve, 2001, our middle son’s wife experienced a ruptured brain aneurysm – and recovered with few ill effects. We spent that Christmas at Barrow’s Neurological Hospital. Christmas Day in 2004 was spent glued to the television. Our youngest son and his wife escaped the tsunami in Thailand by 40 feet. Their bungalow was on a cliff. Either event could have altered my life forever.
Why were we so blessed? The only answer I had – we needed to be extremely grateful. We needed to show this gratitude in some concrete way. The world was responding to the effects of the tsunami. But, what about other unfortunate people in the world? What should we do? So my search began. The first week Father Robert came to our parish, I met with him. We discussed the cost for providing for a family in his home country. He also mentioned the need to help vulnerable youth in Uganda get an education – a luxury, not a right. As a former teacher, his suggestion clicked. Here was the answer to my search! After sponsoring Agnes, the first student in the EENU-USA program, I suggested that this become a parish ministry. So, in May 2005, the first steps began for the development of EENU in the U.S. I have done many volunteer things in my life, in my community and in my church. This was my most daunting dream to undertake. As Co-Founder of E3 Africa along with help from some very knowledgeable volunteers, this dream became a reality in November 2005. E3 Africa began with 43 students sponsored by friends, family and parish members.
There have been many struggles, fears, challenges and wonders since the initiation of E3 Africa to the people of the U.S. As a mother, grandmother, teacher, and counselor, E3 Africa has been my on-going commitment to show my gratitude by having the opportunity to help those who have so little. Growing up on a farm in Missouri, I had ample opportunity to witness charity among neighbors. It was a way of life. My mother had died when I was three years old and my grandparents were wonderful models who taught me to give to others. Compassion for the many orphans in the E3 Africa program has been another motivator. Poverty, lack of good medical attention and the necessities of life are evident in the U.S., but not to the degree of the vulnerable youth of Uganda. My husband of 68 years, and our three sons and their families, have brought much happiness to my life. Also, knowing that we are giving hope to the vulnerable youth of Uganda, adds to the purpose of my life. I am committed to the mission of E3 Africa. I was President for several years but have passed the torch to younger and more capable people. E3 Africa has provided educational opportunities for over 500 students as of yet. My dream – that many more vulnerable children in Uganda are given these opportunities and may my dream become yours.
Michael is a highly motivated Executive Director with a passion for his faith and helping E3 Africa grow in its mission to bring educational opportunities to some of the most underprivileged children in Africa. Michael graduated from Benedictine University with a BA in Theology and is currently working on a MA in Counseling. Bringing his new ideas and perspectives, Michael plans to elevate E3 Africa and its projects to bring educational opportunities to even more kids in Africa. Michael is an Arizona native, and you can often find him hiking the valley trails or being present at Catholic young adult groups.
Joe Weller has been part of the Board of Directors since 2014 and in 2021 took the seat as Chairman. A background in engineering and international business are assets to E3 Africa’s team. Married to wife Jeane, and father to three adult children, he resides in Texas with his family.
BethAnn is a retired principal who served the students and families at Chandler Traditional Academy, Liberty Campus, in the Chandler Unified School District for 13 years. Prior to her work at CTA-Liberty, BethAnn was an Assistant Professor at Cal State Bakersfield University in Bakersfield, California, and at Alfred University in Alfred. New York, as well as an administrator and teacher in the Mesa Public Schools and the Benjamin Franklin Charter School in Queen Creek. Her 38 years in education have prepared her to serve the students in Uganda who are eager and grateful for the opportunity to embrace their formal education in order to reach their goals as contributing members of their communities. BethAnn is a member of St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church in Chandler and assists in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd preschool, the RCIA, and the Called to Protect programs in the parish. She has two adult daughters, a son-in-law, and a granddaughter. Chris has two adult daughters, a son, a son-in-law, and a grandson.
Mike is principal and owner of a private consulting firm that assists clients with a wide range of human resources services. He specializes in executive coaching and mentoring; employee relations; compensation; and helping organizations recruit and hire the right people. He is an International Public Management Association Certified Professional and a graduate of the City of Phoenix Management Academy. Mike holds a Bachelor’s degree in Education from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Mike and his wife, Vivian, are members of Saint Thomas More parish, where they serve as Eucharistic ministers. They also volunteer at the Chris Becker Dining Hall for The Society of St. Vincent DePaul. In addition to their two children and four grandchildren, Mike and Vivian sponsor a child in Uganda through E3 Africa and one in Bolivia.
Sister Betty Benjamine
Sister Betty is a Religious Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who was born in Uganda. She was raised in South Sudan and is South Sudanese by nationality. Sister Betty’s philanthropy work includes working with street children and refugees in Sudan, Khartoum; working to rescue both Muslim children born out of wedlock and their mothers at risk of being killed in Sudan; she currently works with refugees from Africa and the Middle East through Catholic Charities Programs in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix. Her work includes helping victims of domestic violence and homeless veterans, drug addicts, and prostitutes in the greater Phoenix area. Sister Betty holds a degree in Early Childhood Education from Kyambogo University, Kampala, Uganda.
Nate received a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Arizona in 1994. He is the owner of PRE-CEG, an engineering and field services company in Phoenix and Tucson. The company specializes in commercial land development in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and California. Nate was married to Heather Cottrell in 1993. Heather, deaf from birth, has been a special needs teacher at the Phoenix Day School for the Deaf in Phoenix since 1999. They have five children ranging from 9 to 23 years old, and the entire family is bilingual (sign language and English). Nate is active at their Catholic parish, St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Avondale, AZ. He has served on the parish council and finance council there and is active in his local council of the Knights of Columbus. Nate was elected to the position of Chairman of E3 Africa in February 2019, having previously served as Chair-Elect. With his construction industry experience, he chairs the school construction committee at E3 as they work toward building the school campus and opening the new secondary school in Moyo, northern Uganda.
Married with 3 adult children. She received her degree at Arizona State University, R.N. B.S.N. Colleen worked at St. Joseph’s and Maryvale hospitals and has since retired. She helped in a volunteer capacity with E3 Africa for years before joining the Board in 2016. “I think E3 Africa is an amazing charity that will not only change these students’ lives, but their communities, and hopefully, Africa.”
Micki has been active in various types of fundraising activities all her life. Marketing, organization, and technology are just a few of her very helpful and handy skills she offers to E3 Africa. In her family, it has always been a goal to educate and guide children toward understanding unconditional love. She passionate for helping and states, “While the world says to focus on Think globally, act locally, my God says, come and follow me, for wherever you fed or clothed your neighbor, you have done so for me.”
Monica Van Der Werf
Monica believes that each individual effort makes a synergistic difference in creating a better world for ALL people. This was instilled in her by her parents, 8 siblings and her Catholic Education. Often involved with charitable organizations, Monica’s is particularly drawn to homelessness, hunger and education. She has been on the E3Africa board for over 12 years. Currently, Monica is the Revenue Cycle Manager for Genesis Healthcare Partners, a multi-specialty physician group in San Diego, CA. Monica has an extraordinary 21-year-old daughter, Madalyn, a student at ASU. Monica was born in Wausau, WI, but has lived the majority of her life in California and Arizona. Education: Bachelor’s in Business Administration, University of San Diego 1986, Masters in Finance, San Diego State University 1995. Monica enjoys fine arts, reading, travel adventure and scrapbooking!
Sherry Williams graduated with a Bachelor of science in Criminal Justice. She is a retired Federal Agent with 25 years of experience. She also has 10 years of experience as an Elementary School Resource Officer. Sherry is married and has one daughter and one grandson. She has a passion for helping others and for helping children. She sits on the Board of Directors since 2019 when she decided to put her passion and skills to great use and volunteer with E3 Africa.
Sabra Ehrhart is a Global Leader, Educator, Business and Process Excellence Coach who grew up in Arizona and earned a chemical engineering degree from Arizona State University, a Global MBA from Thunderbird and a Certification from Stanford in Design Thinking. Sabra worked globally for Verizon, BASF, Dow Chemical, and UOP as a leader in technology development and implementation, quality, product development, customer service, and business excellence. Sabra lived in, traveled, and worked in all continents except for Antarctica. She considers herself an American and a global citizen. Sabra joined the board in February 2022 as Treasurer of the Board and Board Member. Rosalie Weller, the co-founder was a mentor. Sabra supported E3Africa and followed E3Africa over the years and has now accepted the challenge to help E3 grow and develop. Sabra is committed to the idea that by providing educational opportunities to some of the world’s most underprivileged, the lives of future generations will be impacted. Sabra and her late husband adopted 4 children from child protective services, who are all now adults, have completed high school and have taken advantage of higher education. This has made a huge difference in their lives and in their children’s futures. Sabra currently lives with her husband, John, in Houston Texas. They have 8 grown children and 8+ grandchildren.