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Preview: Mercy Beyond Borders Blog

Mercy Beyond Borders Blog

Updated: 2018-04-25T01:57:28.437-07:00


Vegetarians, Avert Your Eyes!


If you enjoy beef, and especially if you like it rare, you might want to consider moving to South Sudan.  

Meat your meat

I took this photo in Uluah Refugee Camp.  A bare stretch of dirt baked by the sun, transformed for a few hours each week into an open-air butcher shop. An enterprising group of refugee women have pooled the small business loans provided to them by Mercy Beyond Borders. Working together, they purchase a cow, slaughter it, and quickly sell every last piece except for the head. The head stays, in order to prove to others that this is not a cow stolen from someone else. 
Unsold meat hangs from a tree

The women make a tidy profit, and they're proud of that.  "Do you ever quarrel among yourselves over how to run the business?" I asked them. They looked at one another and replied, "Quarrel? No, we share the same goal. We work together so we can succeed!”

Something "Fishe" Here...


One of the joys of travel lies in chancing upon the occasional quirky sign.  At my overnight lodging in Entebbe (before heading north to the refugee camps along the South Sudan border) each of the guest rooms had the name of local flora or fauna. This was definitely my favorite.

Little known fact: in ancient Rome, writing contained no spaces between words.  (As if Latin were not difficult enough to read...)  In Entebbe, creative spacing is apparently the order of the day!

Where are we now?


Our weekly blog has moved to a new platform!  Find us now by clicking here.   Or on the Mercy Beyond Borders website here

Like Family


Meet Gail Grady, the energetic interim Director for Mercy Beyond Borders in Haiti. She's a full-time volunteer, exuding compassion and warmth. Her favorite thing is hiking up into the mountains -- and I do mean hiking: those ravines are steep and rocky. She visits the homes of our Scholars. She greets their relatives like long-lost family. She shares their sorrows and their laughter. She's remarkably at home with them.

By spending time with the families of our scholarship recipients, MBB learns a lot. We meet their extended families.We see generations living under one roof. We see how much they care for one another. We see the hard work by which they coax fruits and vegetables from barren soil. We see how they share with their neighbors. We see the richness of the culture and the resilience of the people who stand up again after every natural disaster that knocks them down.  We see the sacrifices they make to send their children to school "in town."

We also see the fascinating mix of voodoo and Christianity. The music. The dancing. The value placed on rituals and prayer. The faith that undergirds their daily struggles.  

Most of our staff in Haiti are themselves Haitian. For us who are not, home visits are a wonderful way to connect. Time spent in the mountains allows the Haitians to educate us.

Out of the Camp and Into the Classroom!


What do Becky, Priscilla and Nancy have in common?  They are all refugees living in Kakuma Refugee Camp, the desolate desert home for 200,000 refugees, with thousands more arriving every week from famine-stricken, violence-riddled South Sudan. 

All three are from South Sudan.  All three have been selected by MBB to receive high school scholarships.  All three are enrolled at OLM girls' boarding high school in the town outside the camp. And all three are EXTREMELY HAPPY for this chance to continue their education, thanks to generous MBB supporters like YOU.  

WATER -- The Hard Way


"World Water Day" showed up on my smartphone calendar two weeks ago.  At that time I was in the Ulua Refugee Camps in Adjumani, northern Uganda, the overcrowded and temporary home of 800,000 South Sudanese refugees.  I was taking the photo of this young girl.  

Look at her face, dripping with sweat.  Look at the size (and imagine the weight) of the bucket she carries to her family's hut several times each day.  She is about 6 years old.  She doesn't take water for granted.  She doesn't waste a drop.  She knows that without water, she cannot drink or cook or bathe. Without clean water, she and her family will not survive. 

1.8 billion people worldwide lack access to uncontaminated water. In today's world, "I thirst" is not only a biblical reference; it's a global crisis.  

Square Roots Make You Squirm?


MBB is aware that girls often regard math classes as daunting. Those classes can be especially difficult during the girls' transition from small primary schools in the mountains to the larger and more competitive high schools in Gros Morne town.  To ease "math anxiety," MBB provides weekly after-school math tutoring sessions for its Scholars.  In groups of twenty, they practice lessons at the boarding lodge with a skilled math instructor.  

The extra help boosts the girls' confidence in tackling square roots and other math mysteries. We hope it also boosts their exam scores!  

Surveying South Sudan


Alice studies engineering on an MBB Scholarship.  Here she is (wearing a yellow hard hat) practicing the art of surveying. She's surely one of very few South Sudanese women  -- if not the only one --in her field.  

Why has she chosen engineering?  "I want to build up our new country," says Alice. "We need roads and bridges and schools."

S.Sudan has only 50 miles of paved road and hardly any bridges. Look at the picture below. To cross this river in a vehicle, you must wait for the water level to recede, then inch across the uncertain riverbed and drive up the precipitously steep bank. On one of my trips to visit MBB project sites, I myself was in a Land Rover that nearly tipped over backwards when climbing this particular riverbank.  

In summer when the riverbeds dry up you see the tops of huge trailer trucks embedded sideways in the sand, half-buried metal skeletons unearthed by erosion.  Flash floods also claim lives every year, as walls of water roar down from distant mountains, catching people unaware.  

Alice, we can hardly wait for you to put your engineering skills to work!

80 preschoolers : 1 teacher.


An 80:1 ratio. Sound impossible?  Shanas makes it look easy. She has 80 lively preschoolers all morning, but no classroom large enough to hold them. No problem, she teaches them beneath a tree on the school grounds. Shanas is a gifted teacher who can hold the attention of squirming children for hours.  I've seen her do it, and I marvel.  

We proudly claim Shanas as an MBB alum. She is one of the first to have graduated from our scholarship program.  The fact that she has chosen to return to her alma mater, St Bakhita Girls Primary School in South Sudan, makes it even sweeter.  We love you, Shanas!

The Domino Effect


Mercy Beyond Borders currently has nearly 300 young women on full scholarships to high school or universities.  Each of them volunteers monthly in her local community.  That's one of MBB's core values: Compassionate Action.  

Here we see three Haitian scholars visiting a residence for abandoned elderly in the town of Gros Morne. The MBB volunteers interact with the men and women residents, some of whom are disabled, others afflicted by mental illness, others lacking any other place to live.  The volunteers sing with them, dance, play dominoes or cards, help them exercise, and most importantly, listen to their stories.  One thing leads to another. We're all connected. Joy spreads. Call it the best kind of "Domino Effect." 

A Rare and Unusual Scene


The scene:
Four girls relaxing during school recess. To be more specific, four young girls playing a version of "jacks" without stones or bouncing ball. 

What's so rare and unusual about that?  Let me count the ways: 
1.  These girls are enrolled in school. It's very rare for girls in South Sudan to be in school.
2.  These girls are relaxing. Not hauling water or collecting firewood. Not scrubbing clothes. Not cooking. Not carrying younger siblings.  No, these girls are enjoying some "down time" with friends. Back in their villages, you would rarely see a female --even a very young one -- relaxing.
2.  These girls are playing; yes, actually playing. If you traveled around S.Sudan, you would think that play is reserved only for boys and men: they wrestle, engage in sports, sit around playing dominoes.  Girls work and work and work.

MBB delights in supporting girls' education. For girls in S.Sudan being in school means much more than classroom learning. Being in school gives them a chance to be children, to recognize their dignity, to develop into whole persons. And it's wonderful to see them play!

Tibetan Prayer Flags? Not exactly...


No, they're not Tibetan prayer flags catching a breeze from the Himalayas. They are the stuff of ordinary life in Haiti: bright-hued clothes hung out to dry on an unfinished roof beneath a sultry sky. But who's to say these splashes of cotton and color are not prayer flags, after all? Today they flap on a line atop one of our MBB Scholars' Boarding Lodges. Tomorrow they will clothe our MBB Scholars as they walk to school, learn new things, share meals and grapple with homework.  Simple, humble, uncomplicated pieces of clothing.  They teach us how to pray. 

World's Youngest Old Woman


Hey, you: OLD WOMAN! This girl's name is Abuba, which means Old Woman.

We don't know why her parents gave her such an unusual monniker. We do know she's happy to be studying at St Bakhita School in South Sudan with hundreds of other girls supported by Mercy Beyond Borders. 

Let's hope she stay healthy and lives long, thriving and growing into her name!

Putting the LUG in Luggage


As you read this, I'm packing to fly to Haiti.  If it were just my own stuff, I could go with a back-pack slung over my shoulder. But no, I dare not arrive to Gros Morne without supplies for our Mercy Beyond Borders projects! 

So I'll be hauling suitcases filled with donated sewing supplies for our Women's Center, toner and ink cartridges for the local MBB office, computer accessories, special requests by volunteers working there, etc. etc.  And of course, a package or two of sweet munchies for the wonderful MBB staff.  

I'll head for the airport murmuring heartfelt thanks to whoever invented rolling suitcase wheels!

Raise High the Roofbeam!


St.Gabriel's, the only all-girl primary school in Gros Morne, Haiti, is definitely pressed for space. The 120-year old school building is hemmed in by adjacent properties. Its 600 girls pack the classrooms to overflowing. 

There's nowhere to go but up!

(image) Mercy Beyond Borders provides a modest maintenance grant each year to the school. This year they're using the money to construct two new classrooms on the second floor. 

It's been fun to watch the rooms take shape at the hands of the skilled Haitian masons.  

Stay tuned!  Many of the 6th grade grads of St Gabriel's qualify to become MBB high school Scholars.

From Drought to Drench


California has it all: coastlines, mountains, deserts, forests, farmland, cities, sunshine, rain.... What? RAIN?  Yes: that almost-forgotten-phenomenon-that-falls-from-the-skies has reappeared with a vengeance over this past week.Rain, glorious, rain sloshing in our streets, causing mudslides down our hills, turning brown landscapes to green overnight, and washing away worries of drought.  Of course, rain invites children into puddle-stomping fun (after all, kids under 5 here have barely ever seen rain).  The storms create havoc, however, for the rest of us navigating the crowded freeways and back roads of the SF Bay Area.I do not scare easily.  After all, I travel in war zones. I co-exist in S.Sudan with men toting AK-47s.   But last night I was scared while driving in the Bay Area along a stretch of rural road known as Niles Canyon. Threading my way along the 2-lane road in the midst of a downpour, with a steep cliff on my left and a tumultuous river on my right.  Trying to see past my windshield wipers. Startled by granite boulders as large as suitcases crashing down from the cliff and tumbling across the road in front of me. Unnerved by seeing several damaged vehicles stopped on the right shoulder, evidently already hit by rocks. Nervous about the uprooted trees cascading in the swift current just a few feet below the level of the road.  Well, there was no place to turn around, so I just kept driving.  My knuckles were white when I reached my destination.  After breathing deeply for a while, I was able to give my scheduled presentation to a parish group.  You can be sure I drove home by a different route![...]

Enthused about the New Year!


What better way to start
the New Year
than with the exuberance of youth?

These are a few of MBB's 142 Scholars in Haiti.
They have good reasons to rejoice:

They are in high school
(Haitian females average 2 yrs of schooling).

They have full academic scholarships
(most families cannot afford tuition).

They live in MBB Boarding Lodges
(their family homes are in the distant mountains).

Their future looks B*R*I*G*H*T...
(they'll escape Haiti's 80% unemployment rate)
They have
supporting their dreams!

Can My Grandmother Come to School with Me?


Catherine is 10 yrs old, a student at St Bakhita's in South Sudan. Her Christmas wish is that her younger siblings and her grandmother could come to school with her, because there is "no food in the villages."  Read her own words....I am in 2nd grade at St Bakhita Girls Primary School. I come from a village 200 miles away from here. This school is a good place to be. There is education, food and even caring, loving people.When I first arrived here I had nothing except only one dress on my body; no books, no nothing. Now I am better: learning in class, eating porridge every day and having many friends. Also, every month Sr. Susan distributes soap to us girls and I can get some every time. I really thank God. I am in Typing class on the computer, too, one of the projects funded by MBB. I am happy for all that!When I was in the village our life was not easy because my mother died, leaving three of us very young.  My father is a soldier at the front line. He could do nothing for us. Me being the elderly child among my three siblings I decided to take up the responsibility to take care of them; otherwise we were going to starve. Every morning I woke up in the dark and went to the forest searching for firewood, wild fruits and vegetables. This was our source of survival. Though I was just 8 yrs old, I could do more than a big person could do. When my father saw me working he became happy and proud of me. He decided to send me to school while taking my 2 younger siblings to my grandmother. That is why am in St Bakhita’s today. I study very hard so that in Future I can lift my family from this poor condition if God keeps me and them alive.When the school closes for Christmas, I will go to look for my family because I miss them so much. If there is a possibility I will request the school to allow me to bring my younger siblings and my grandmother to school with me so they might get some food to eat as I continue with my studies.  I know there is no food in the village because I heard people have moved to other places because of hunger and I wonder how my family is surviving there by now? I pray let God have mercy on them and me and keep us all safe as I travel this long difficult journey to reach them there.[...]

Check the Fine Print


Can you see it?  On the bottom left side of the pink poster?  In the blue ink?  

It says, "GIVE ME A PEN, NOT MEN."  

Girls of South Sudan marched through towns to raise awareness of their desire for education. They are begging parents to allow their daughters to enroll in school, stay in school, and defer early marriage for the sake of their health and future.

Mercy Beyond Borders couldn't agree more!

Hey, That Looks Like Me...


Colorful new murals painted by students onto the walls of St Bakhita School last month are drawing a lot of attention from the local community. 

Here's a Toposa woman on the school campus marveling at a canoe in which her likeness sits holding a baby. The canoe is decorated with the flag of South Sudan, a country that remains tragically divided by ethnic conflicts.  St Bakhita School is one of the few places where girls of many different tribes live and study peacefully, side by side.

Recycling Genius


One of the sorry realities of many developing countries is the amount of litter everywhere. Walking along a city street or a country path, you see a landscape marred by discarded plastic bags and plastic soft drink bottles. Rarely is there any organized trash recycling. Few people seem to value keeping their surroundings beautiful.

A group in Port-au-Prince is modeling something better. They use discarded soft drink bottles -- yes, Fantas and Coca-Colas -- to create houses!  They cut the bottom third from the soda pop containers to embed in concrete walls.  The bottle bottoms allow colored light to filter into the rooms, giving an almost stained-glass radiance to the otherwise dark interior. 

These artisans have even managed to make a toilet cubicle look more like, ahem, a throne room!

Really, it's ingenious. 

Next time you are in Port-au-Prince, check them out:
the Haiti Communiterie Hostel, near the airport.

How do you say THANK YOU?


Nerlinda, one of MBB'S high school Scholars in Haiti, wants to THANK YOU personally on this Thanksgiving Day:In Kreyol:  MESI ANPIL.   In French: MERCI BEAUCOUP.  In English: THANK YOU, WONDERFUL DONORS!Nerlinda lives with her mother, step-father, brother, sister, niece and two cousins. There is no electricity but they do have a bathroom inside the house where they can take a bucket shower. She appreciates all that MBB does for her: a free academic Scholarship; weekly Computer Classes; and annual Summer Leadership Camp. "I feel so blessed and thankful," she says.  To pay it forward, Nerlinda tutors young children one weekend per month. "As she began a lesson," says Gail Grady, MBB's Interim Director in Haiti, "I watched as Nerlinda sweetly put her arm around this young boy's shoulders and pulled him closer.  It is very natural and common in Haiti to see people walking hand in hand or arm in arm; women with women, men with men, teenage boys with teenage boys, older siblings with younger siblings. This desire for a physical connection is something I very much admire."Nerlinda dreams of becoming a pediatrician. For now she intends to plant trees in the community of Gros Morne. In the future, when she has money, she hopes to open a free hospital to treat children who cannot otherwise afford care. Her message to MBB supporters is simple: "THANK YOU for this scholarship that keeps me in school. I hope you continue so that other young women in Haiti have this same chance."[...]

Who Let That MOUSE in Here?


A group of South Sudanese artists brought Micky Mouse to St Bakhita Primary School last week. What a hit!  After receiving quick lessons in color and form, the girls dipped brushes into paint and brightened up the the walls of their school, inside and out.  The artists mentored them as the students completed 21 murals in 5 days.  And what fun it was!  Even in the midst of a war zone, we all need beauty as much as bread.  

High Fashion in South Sudan


Yes, South Sudan is riven by a violent civil war. Yes, people are distressed and displaced.  But you can't stop ART.  We all need beauty as much as bread.  

Look at John!  He may be diminutive but he's definitely spirited.  He has fashioned for himself a colorful belt of discarded bottles to decorate his ragged shorts.  Call it ingenuity. Call it performance art. Call it proof that creativity flourishes even in the worst of conditions...  Thank you, John!

What is THAT?


Every person I have met in South Sudan cares deeply about things that grow. They know all about planting and tending and weeding and harvesting. They know exactly when the rains should come, and they know hunger when the rains fail.  

Shanas, one of MBB's Scholarship alums who is now a teacher in South Sudan, came to Calif recently to meet with our Board and donors, and she was enthralled by the produce markets.  "What is that? How does it grow?  What is the taste? How do you prepare it?  Is it bitter or sweet? " Wrinkled acorn squash fascinated her.

And when she saw an apple tree, she was almost too excited to talk. "Oh, I have heard about apples, but never seen such a tree!"  

Her companion, Sr Sue Claire from St Bakhita School, was equally