Polish Catholic Church at Nyabyeya near Masindi

 

Thanks to Charlotte Beauvoisin of Diary of a Muzungu for this report on a Catholic Church built by Polish refugees near Masindi in the 1940s.

The small community of Nyabyeya was once home to a community of Poles who built a church that remains popular with the community to this day.
Adjacent to Nyabyeya College is Uganda’s only Polish church. What makes it particularly unusual is that it was built by refugees, mostly women, who fled Europe during the Second World War.
In the early 1940s, approximately 2000 Polish women, children and elderly men arrived in western Uganda. They were some of over 18,000 Poles settled in 22 across Africa.
The Masindi group of Poles had been held in Siberian prisoner of war camps until 1941 when an amnesty freed them. Polish men of fighting age then joined the army. Those who couldn’t sign up were offered shelter in one of Britain’s overseas territories. Over 110,000 people made their way from Russia’s Steppes to Iraq, Iran, Palestine and India. The Poles destined for Uganda arrived by boat at Mombasa and took the rail journey across Kenya into Uganda. The refugees were ferried onto Lake Kyoga and up to Masindi Port. From here they were taken to the new settlements near Masindi.
The Polish Catholic Church at Nyabyeya was built between 1943-1945 almost entirely by the women who had left their husbands and other male relatives fighting in Europe.
On the church walls are the Stations of the Way of the Cross, with inscriptions in Polish. The Polish Church’s cemetery has 51 graves. An inscription in Polish reads ‘Pray for the Poles who died 1939 – 1947.’
According to Stanisław Lula, who arrived in Uganda when he was 16 years old, recalls: “Masindi estate is a large village built especially for the reception of Polish refugees … It was established in 1942 and consisted of 8 villages connected with each other. Our village was called ‘Monkey Grove’, because it bordered with bush, where there were a lot of different monkeys.”
The book From the Steppes to the Savannah by Barbara Porajska details the journey and some of the experiences of this community.
World War II ended in 1945. In 1948, the British started to close down the camps. Of 18,000 Poles who reached East Africa from Siberia, only 3,000 returned to Poland. The others left for other countries.
The church served Poles living here until the closing of the camp in 1948.
Do read the visitors’ book. Many comments are from descendants of the Poles who once lived here.

How to find the Polish Church
The church is 45 minutes’ drive from Masindi. It’s not signposted and the route takes you along winding dusty tracks (but you may just find it using Google Maps). However, if you’d like to visit the Polish Church, it’s highly recommended that you contact New Court View Hotel in Masindi who can make arrangements for you. You will need to book in advance as the church receives few visitors and is often locked. Call Sallie +256 772 799969 or Robert +256 772 427060 or email newcourtviewhotel@gmail.com

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2 thoughts on “Polish Catholic Church at Nyabyeya near Masindi

  1. Mamerito Ssenfuma says:

    The last time i was in Masindi (July 2019) on a famtrip to some hotels, i came across old photos of Polish communities in Masindi at the Saltek Forest Cottages. Our host tried to narrate the story, but could not connect it much.

    Thank you Charlotte for sharing this travel report. Next time i visit Masindi, i will try to make my way to tour the church

  2. Kasozi Fredrick says:

    I worked in Masindi District for over 10 years and I was deeply touched when I visited the Polish Catholic Church in Nyabyeya. I was compiling the various tourism sites in Masindi. I cannot but shudder at the way this valuable site has been neglected by the Local Authorities in the district. Surprisingly, even the communities around this site have little or no knowledge about it!

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