Father William Ryan, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, has been serving the people of Togo, Africa, since 2006, when he opened a mission parish there named Our Lady of Guadalupe. As he looks ahead to the future when he will no longer be able to serve them, he is hoping to leave behind a sustainable source of funding for the many projects he began – and he needs help to do so.

Father Ryan first served in Togo as a volunteer in the Peace Corps in 1973-75, where he traveled to different villages manually installing wells. After he returned to the United States and entered the priesthood, he continued to feel a call to return, and about 12 years ago, he did.

Before Father Ryan arrived, there was one parish covering the area of more than 100 villages, which meant that the priest could only make it to each one about once a year. With the establishment of Our Lady of Guadalupe and another parish at the same time, the three parishes now each cover a much smaller territory and priests are able to visit the villages more often. 

But the reach of Father Ryan’s ministry extends far beyond the walls of a parish. Father Ryan has coordinated the installation of 11 new fresh water wells and has created new schools where education had previously been minimally available. Now seven of those schools are serving more than 1,100 students, and the students in the middle school are housed, educated, and offered three meals a day plus a snack for 10 months. The yearly tuition for that school is $7 per student, but many students need scholarships in order to attend.

Father Ryan also established a local medical clinic that delivers about 50 babies a year, which was previously done on the floor of mud huts, and he created economic projects to provide jobs and needed supplies for the communities in Togo. And beyond the material assistance Father Ryan has provided, he has also baptized hundreds of people during his time in Togo.

Father Ryan is getting older, and knows that he will not be able to carry on this ministry forever, so he hopes to establish a sustainable, easy to manage source of funding to make these projects a reality for long into the future.  

“I hope the Lord gives me a good number of years more here in Togo, but since I won’t be here forever, we need to look to the future and do all that we can to ensure that the mission does not depend forever on our supporters in America,” he said.

Father Ryan stands in front of a chapel in Togo. (Photo courtesy of Father William Ryan)

In order to make this possible, the mission purchased land upon which 100,000 teak trees can be planted.

After 10 years of growth, 10,000 trees per year could be sold to support the mission’s various projects, and a new tree will sprout from the trunk of the old tree after it is sold. A $1 donation allows the ground to be prepared, seedlings to be planted, and a tree to be maintained for the first two years. 

Father Ryan said there are three main advantages to the project: it is low risk, it is simple, and it extends far in to the future.

It is low risk because worldwide, the demand for teak far outpaces the supply, and in the last 25 years, the price of teak wood has never seen a decrease, he said. 

“It is simple because once the seedlings have been planted and the young trees maintained for the next two years, there is no maintenance involved at all,” Father Ryan said. “The trees grow by themselves and continue to grow no matter how the economic or political conditions might change in Togo or globally.” 

Finally, the ability of a new tree to sprout from the roots of an old one allows the project to extend far into the future, and the trees will grow faster after the root system is already in place.

“Any donation that people can give to our teak tree project will truly be a ‘gift that keeps on giving,’” said Father Ryan.

To donate to the “Plant a Tree, Save a Child” project, visit www.gofundme.com/plant-a-tree-save-a-child.