Fred and Stella Mugagga have a personal commitment to build a culture of life — one smile at a time.
The couple from Masaka, Uganda, was in St. Louis last week to spread the news about their organization, Smile Again Families. The organization provides emotional and spiritual support to teenage mothers in Uganda so that they will choose life for their babies instead of abortion.
It sounds a lot like the work of Birthright and Our Lady's Inn — in fact, the Mugaggas visited with both organizations while in St. Louis to learn more about their work. The couple — who were in the United States for a conference — were the guests of Mimi and Tom McDonough of St. Joseph Parish in Cottleville. The Mugaggas met Tom and Mimi's daughter, Maria McDonough, in Rwanda through her work on a mission trip through The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).
Smile Again Families started in 2014 after the couple listened to a call from God to work with families. "We want to help broken and suffering people find their inner worth," Stella Mugagga told the staff at Birthright of St. Louis. Stella Mugagga has a background in social work, while Fred Mugagga is an electrical engineer and architect.
Many girls in Uganda drop out of school and look for domestic work in homes. Sometimes they become victims of sexual abuse in those situations. Other times, a young woman will enter into an unhealthy relationship with a man hoping that he will take care of her. These situations often lead to unplanned pregnancies and the temptation to have an abortion.
Laws and policies on abortion in Uganda are inconsistently interpreted. According to the Guttmacher Institute, Ugandan law allows abortion to save a woman's life. However, the 2006 National Policy Guidelines and Service Standards for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights notes that abortion is permitted under other circumstances, including in cases of fetal anomaly, rape and incest, or if the woman is HIV-positive. An estimated 314,300 abortions took place in 2013, the most recent data available from Guttmacher.
In Masaka, the couple is working on a temporary shelter that would house 3-5 teenage mothers. They estimate it will take about $15,000 to complete. Additionally, they are looking for sponsors who can help the girls continue their education. Eventually, they would like to expand their efforts and house more mothers.
Right now, they are working with three volunteers who are also helping young mothers in their community, and teaching them skills such as making baskets and books. The proceeds return to the organization to help the mothers. They also provide spiritual and emotional support gatherings, education programs in schools to prevent teenage pregnancies, community engagement to prevent child marriages, marriage formation for young couples and help with basic family needs.
Smile Again Families is supported by the Mugaggas' parish, Blessed Sacrament Kimaanya Church in the Diocese of Masaka. They also have the spiritual support of Bishop John Baptist Kaggwa — who has ties to St. Louis through Microfinancing Partners in Africa and Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, where he has sent several men for studies.
The Mugaggas hope that the foundation they are laying will lead to systemic changes in Uganda. The support they provide is meant to give young mothers the tools they need to support a culture of life within their own families.
"The family is really important to us, and as much as we want them to be close to us, their families are much more important," Fred Mugagga said.
Smile Again Families
The organization is on Facebook at smileagain.familyproject
Email Fred Mugagga at [email protected]
To arrange a donation, contact Mimi McDonough of St. Joseph Parish in Cottleville at (636) 926-9311 or [email protected].