Each Voice Counts!

Our world is hurting right now and there are ways we can respond. We have an opportunity, in an election year, to advocate for a better path. Each voice really does count.

Mercy Works attended an inspiring Women Leaders Network Breakfast this morning thanks to Micah Australia with like minded women to hear and chat about the most pressing issues faced by our communities and how to be best equipped to respond.

Executive Director Sally Bradley RSM and Member for Warringah Zali Steggall at the Micah Women’s Leadership Breakfast at Ultimo on Wednesday morning

With the theme the World We See, women leading change with their organisations on the ground in Africa, India and the Ukrainian Border – Kuki Rokhum, Asuntha Charles & Caroline Brennan – shared the impact the current devastation across the globe is having on women and children, via video.

Executive Director, Sally Bradley RSM, Tim Costello, OA and Micah Executive Director, and Communications Coordinator Jo Casamento at the Micah Women’s Leadership Breakfast at Ultimo

Zali Steggall, OAM, Member for Warringah, stated we all need to engage politically, sharing this story:

“I was presented with some statistics in 2019 that young women aged between 18 and 25 were asked who would be interested in politics. And zero percent were interested in politics. And that horrifies me as a statistic.

“And to paraphrase someone else, if you’re not around the table you’re a meal, right? If you are not part of the decision making, decisions will be made that will impact your lives, that will impact the lives of your families and your children and you won’t have a say.

“So it’s not good enough, and I’m sorry no one gets a leave pass, it’s not good enough to sit on the sidelines.. we can all make a difference. Each voice counts.”

Tim Costello, AO, current Executive Director of Micah Australian and Chief Advocate of World Vision Australia, talked with passion about making sure our leaders commit to a safer world for all. Micah is calling on Australians to make a difference, especially in an election year. Their statement reads:

“When leaders choose war, it is the vulnerable who suffer. Pregnant mothers are forced to flee, children must abandon their education, families are left without food or shelter.

“Australia can help by opening our doors to people fleeing conflict and providing life-saving aid for those who stay.

“But in recent times we’ve accepted fewer refugees, we’ve become less generous with our aid. We can call on all parties to help make a safer world for all by committing to reverse cuts to our refugee program, to increase life-saving humanitarian aid to hotspots and to rebuild Australian Aid.”

Mercy Works Meets Mildura!

Visiting St Joseph’s College, Mildura

What a treat it was to finally get out of the office and into a school last month!

Mercy Works was finally able to visit a school after two years of lock-outs due to Covid protocols, when we headed to Victoria and visited St Joseph’s College in Mildura after an 18-month negotiation period.

At the invitation of College Principal Marg Blythman and Paula CoxDirector of Catholic Identity, our Executive Director, Sally Bradley RSM, and Communications Coordinator, Jo Casamento, were able to make a three-day visit to conduct a series of presentations to both students and teachers on the work Mercy Works does; giving overviews on our projects, sharing our stories and presenting on Catholic Social Teaching.

Sr Sally and Jo from Mercy Works present to the Year 7 Students of St Joseph’s College, Mildura last month

Over three days we were able to present on a range of our projects, to create understanding around the work Mercy Works does both here in Australia and in Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and the Philippines.

We shared stories from our Creating Change For Women Through Advocacy Project In Cebu with student leaders, informed Year 7 and 8 students of the work we do with young Indigenous girls of the same age who live and learn with their babies at the Cape York Girl Academy and the daughters of  women who work in prostitution who reside at Balay Banaag in The Philippines, as well as highlighting to the teachers at the college our First Nations Projects and the Emergency Relief Roll-out in Papua New Guinea last year. We also shared stories about our work at Katilosa Centre for the Disabled in Timor-Leste and our Baabayn Mothers Group Project in Mt Druitt.

On our last day, principal Marg Blythman presented Sr Sally with a cheque to go towards our projects. The Student Leadership team also generously presented us with a cheque from the fundraising they had completed throughout the year.

“Thank you so much Sally and Jo for being with us – and reminding us that we can be part of something bigger and greater than all of us,” said Marg handing over the cheque at the staff day.

Sally and Jo receive a cheque for our projects from the Leadership Team at St Joseph’s College Mildura, who drove the fundraising initiatives!

Not only did we get the chance to meet the wonderful teachers and students and enjoy the incredible mercy hospitality of Mildura, but we were also able to get a sneak peek of the new Mercy Heritage Centre built at the School. And it is something to behold!

The Mercy Cross, the Mercy shawl, boots and a good cup of tea on display at the new Heritage Centre at St Joseph’s College, Mildura

It is an incredible homage to the Mercy Sisters who first travelled and set up schools in Mildura as well as a tribute to their roots and connections back to our founder, Catherine McAuley, and the “boots on” mission of responding mercifully to those in need or suffering that has spread so far across the globe from Baggott Street, Ireland.

We enjoyed a good cup of tea, some scones and delicious treats in one of the heritage tea rooms with the Sisters of Mercy who live in Mildura.

 

A cup of tea with the Sisters of Mercy in the new Heritage Centre at St Joseph’s College, Mildura.

It was a true reminder of the powerful steps that can be taken when children receive mercy from the primal source of school and can then set on their journey to lead a purposeful life.

“Sharing the work our partners and staff on the ground do, is our passion here at Mercy Works and one we are incredibly lucky to do,” said Sr Sally.

“We are incredibly grateful for the wonderful donation. It will go to reach some of vulnerable people and their communities both here in Australia and in Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and The Philippines.”

The Mercy flame is strong!

 

Sally and Jo with students at St Joseph’s College Mildura in March
The original nun’s habits worn by the Sisters of Mercy at the new heritage centre at St Joseph’s College, Mildura.

  

 

 

 

“Books are medicine for the mind”: World Book Day

“Reading is food for minds. It is medicine.” – a former Mercy Connect Student

 
These beautiful words were written by one of our refugee students from Iraq, during her time working with our Mercy Connect, Sydney, program.
 
Abiha* says she had to “start from scratch” when she arrived with her family in Australia in 2019, after she lost everything in her mother country of Iraq, because of war.
But her favourite place was school as it is “the first place I achieved progress in life”. It was here she developed her love of learning and books.

“Books are the children of mind – I find myself reading every day. Reading is food for minds. It is medicine. In 2018, I challenged myself to finish thirty books – I happily finished 43.”

If World Book Day aims to highlight the power of books and their ability to impart knowledge and values to readers, we can’t think of a more worthy example.
 
Celebrating the day reinforces the idea that books serve as windows into different worlds, both fictional and non-fictional.
After her arrival in Australia, Abiha placed first in an Arabic Writing Competition as well as receiving an Outstanding Attendance Award and the Victor Chang Cardiac Award for Excellence In Science.
Her love of books has also meant she was involved in school initiatives as a library assistant and magazine writer.
In 2019, she was also the proud recipient of a Leadership Award and then in 2021, she became College Captain and lead the SRC team for charity/school fundraisers in a creative way, given the challenging times of COVID-19.
She also attended the Leadership Program at NSW Parliament and web the Community Service/Leadership Award from the Sydney Refugee Youth Awards that same year.

Now studying medicine at university, Abiha is busily purchasing textbooks and medical equipment and resources for her studies in medicine.

“My main goal is to be a doctor and a great neurologist,” she says. “I love medicine. Studying and working in medicine is like life. I want to help people live well.”

Abiha says she believes in the “power of education and medicine” after her “mother suffered trauma” and became paralysed because of her mental health. “Treatment and remedies are healing her,” she says.

*Abiha is not her real name 

Photos are not related to this post, but from our Mercy Connect Program.

 

Earth Day – Investing in our Planet

It’s World Earth Day today and many of our projects have been feeling the impact of the environment in the past few years.

 
Pictured here are some of our girls from one of our projects in The Philippines, The Creating Change For Women Through Advocacy project in Cebu in The Philippines (run in partnership with The Villa Maria Good Shepherd Sisters) which gives the survivors of human trafficking a voice.
Performing Shibashi – a series of 18 energy-enhancing exercises that co-ordinate movement with breathing and concentration – on Mt Naupa.                     Photo: Supplied 
Here the girls, and some local girls, visited Mt Naupa, located in the city of Naga, and went mountain trekking.
“When we were on top of the mountain we perform the same rituals every year including planting a tree and doing Shibashi (a Tai Chi Qigong exercise routine),” says Arianne Nadela, the Program Coordinator at Good Shepherd HEART.

“Because you can see how the mountains are being destroyed by mining and we are looking at the wounded mother Earth on top of the Hills.”

Both our Cebu project and our other project in The Philippines, Balay Banaag – our residential centre for girls of prostituted women (run in partnership with Australian Marist Solidarity) – have seen the girls and women involved – as well as the teams we partner with –   still recovering from the devastating impacts of Super Typhoon Rai  (known as Odette locally) over Christmas last year.
 
The Typhoon ravaged the communities of Surigao Del Norte, Leyte, Negros, Cebu and Palawan when it hit on Dec 16th, 2021. In total, over 4 million people were displaced from the Typhoon, which was the strongest typhoon since Super Typhoon Haiyan, which hit in 2013.
 
Many of the most vulnerable are still trying to recover as their homes were damaged, and for so many, completely destroyed.

The typhoon also directly impacted our staff from Cebu. Many communities in Cebu City were without power or access to clean drinking water for almost three weeks.

The GSHEART aftercare compound was affected, the roof of the duplex where the program participants residents lived was destroyed and the women and our social worker had to face the rage of the storm bracing themselves inside the unit.

“They were able to evacuate in the seminar house on foot after the rage subsided,” our Project Coordinator, Sr Virgo Espineda RGS, told us at the time.

“The duplex was newly renovated in preparation for their upcoming renewal of license from the welfare agency and accreditation too.”

For several days potable water for drinking was scarce and even for washing, taking a bath, and, other purposes. They boiled water for drinking and when drinking water became available the price shot up from 20 pesos a barrel per refill to 60 pesos.

“Food was a most vital necessity during this time, so religious congregations opened their doors to share their water supplies and food to people in need,” she said.

“Lacking in response was the local government….Garbage piled up on sidewalks, water sources had to be initiated by the people, even cutting of trees, or electrical posts to make the roads passable became the people’s initiatives too.”

For vulnerable girls in Davao City, Mindanao, where our Balay Banaag project cares for 15, six-18 year old vulnerable girls, the typhoon caused their two septic tanks to overflow.

“Two septic tanks have been overflowing as a result of the last typhoon and is creating a bad smell,” reports one staff member. “The septic tanks are ten years old and new cemented safety tanks are required.”

 

 

World Creativity and Innovation Day

Bilum Bags

In Papua New Guinea, Bilum Bags are beautiful, traditional, and intricately handwoven string bags which have been crafted and used by people for hundreds of years to carry their most precious and essential belongings. They are at the heart of Papua New Guinean traditions and hold deep cultural and emotional significance.

Today on World Creativity and Innovation Day – which hopes to raise awareness around the importance of creativity and innovation with respect to advancing the United Nations sustainable development goals, also known as the “global goals” – we can’t think of anything more inspiring than the humble Bilum bag which is not only beautiful and practical but also provides momentum for economic growth in Papua New Guinea.

Pictured here are woman with their gorgeous Bilums for sale at the local markets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mercy Works aims to empower, support and guide women and girls towards a better future through many different programs and projects both here in Australia and in overseas in Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and The Philippines.

We have worked in partnership to provide training to women to give them the skills and knowledge to set up their own small to medium businesses to support themselves and their families. Women who have received this training are further supported to ‘Step Up’ by developing their basic skills further and empowering them through providing the tools and materials required to make their businesses sustainable into the future.

This year a total of thirty face masks were sewn by women who had never touched a manual sewing machine for years. Here, our In-Country Coordinator in PNG, Sr Maryanne Kolkia RSM, reveals a skilled woman who had trained in the 1970’s came forward and made herself available to train women from the village to sew. She was accompanied by her granddaughter assisting her to put the thread into the needle of the sewing machine.

Ten manual sewing machines were also repaired and fixed with parts replaced and the machine’s, which are 14 years old, cleaned.

A Women’s Group was formed in February with the aid of the Sisters of St Therese from one of the parishes in the diocese. Now 25 women meet regularly!

Raising awareness in the villages in Papua New Guinea is part of Mercy Work’s mission.

“The progress and developments of targeted activities within the community are positive,” says Sr Maryanne.

“Those engaged with Mercy Works shared positive stories of change and their life-changing experiences to others boosts their curiosity, enthusiasm and motivation.”

With word of mouth spreading among individuals and groups in regards to the Mercy Works program activities, an open invitation to join the group was met with great enthusiasm.

The manageress of St Mary’s Technical School, Helen*, started with her family by purchasing one electrical sewing machine with the Thirty Million Kina project – an initiative which allows a start up amount on loans with micro enterprise concept. The amount used to start up the business is returned and leant to another person.

Over a period of three years the same amount of money is to been given out as a loan 78 times between June 2020 and July 2024!

Helen began sewing Meri blouses (women’s tops) for sale. And the amount of money raised among the family was put to purchasing mini goods for sale and packets of seeds for planting.

“The purpose of lending thirty Kina is to enhance intended personal dreams, goals and vision in life,” says Sr Maryanne who says the program was developed in response to women’s disclosures that while they could earn and save money, their household needs are greater than their earnings.

Woman had shared their frustration at not being able to control their own economic resources.

“It’s a reminder that one’s life journey remains as a catalyst that sets enabling, measurable and simple directions that invites individuals to take responsibility, accountability and liability,” says Sr Maryanne.

“It all contributes to the primary goal of making and growing money together in achieving bigger and better dreams in life. Stories of change among the groups remains a turning point for others wishing, with the idea of; ‘if you can do it, I can too’.”

Providing items like bilums and meri blouses only strengthens the demand for such items. Demand for food produce such as bread, pies, cakes and jams is also increasing as the presence of these items is meeting a need within the community.

For fourteen years in the Eastern Highlands Province,  Sr Maryanne, was a driving force behind various life and skills training programs in Goroka and Mt Hagen. In addition to training in practical skills such as farming and sewing, Maryanne also identified the need for training in Small to Medium Enterprise (SME).
Her experience taught her that this was necessary to enhance the prospects for the trainees to start up and successfully run their own business to sell the goods they have learned to produce.
The theme developed by Maryanne for the SME program, ‘Leave No One Behind’, was created with the aim of being a pathway through agriculture and other businesses to sustainability, reliability and ownership into the future – essential to community development for the poor and impoverished people of Papua New Guinea.
*Helen’s name has been changed for reasons of privacy

 

 

 

 

Easter Reflection 2022

A Journey from Despair to Hope 

When tragedy strikes, when trouble comes, when life disappoints us, we stand at the crossroads between hope and despair, torn and hurting. Despair cements us in the present. Hope sends us dancing around dark corners trusting in a tomorrow we cannot see. 

(Vision and Viewpoint E-Newsletter – 28 March 2022)

These powerful words from Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister OSB touch my heart. In recent times I have been tempted to give into despair and emotional fatigue! At every turn both at home and globally, we all seem to be living in such uncertain and anxious times that test our faith and our capacity for hope. I have never liked pain and if there is a way over or around it, I may attempt to jump over it!

Yet this is not the Easter story. Jesus endured the darkness of humiliation, suffering and death on a Cross, before breaking through to the light of liberation, the new life of resurrection. The Easter story leads us in faith from despair to hope.

Given all the challenges our Mercy Works partners, projects and staff have been facing lately, they too could have given into despair. Yet with great pride I can share with you this Easter some Mercy Works stories of hope and light which I know will lift your spirits, as they have mine.

In the words of Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, they are truly “shining lamps, giving light to all around us.”  

In Papua New Guinea –

In our projects in Simbu and Kiunga, ongoing adaptations and great progress has been made despite all the challenges.  Misinformation and fear abound about the pandemic in Papua New Guinea and people often stand at the crossroads between despair and hope. Yet so much is happening in our Mercy Works projects which counteracts despair and leads the community along the path of hope. Relationships are developing with the prisoners and their families in the Barawagi jail to build trust and respect. With all our community development activities there is more outreach to the villages rather than expecting the people to come in to the towns. We are searching for ways to resume our regular radio broadcasts which give correct COVID education and share good news stories of hope and change across the country.

Amidst all this Mercy Works in PNG offers a ‘shining lamp’, a beacon of hope!

In the Philippines –

You will have read about our new project with trafficked women in the recent Mini Bilum magazine in Cebu cityCreating Change for Women through Advocacy’. Mercy Works is in partnership with the Villa Maria Good Shepherd Sisters Inc.   Despite the recent major setbacks – the super typhoon Odette in December 2021 and the spreading the Omicron variant, the project has forged ahead with great enthusiasm and courage.

A ‘shining lamp’, a beacon of hope remains steadfast in the Philippines!

In Adelaide First Nations Advocacy project – known as Nunga Babies Watch –

With passionate commitment the Aboriginal women who lead this project have stood together and called upon the South Australian Government to take immediate action to end another Stolen Generation from happening.  They presented a 20-point Statement to the South Australian Parliament in December 2021. This challenges the removal of Aboriginal children from their families and the placing of them in non-Indigenous settings.  Former chaplain for the Department of Correctional Services, Ngadjuri woman and Elder Aunty Pat Waria-Read, says –

“This is a national disgrace. Months later there’s been no response from the Ministers, I thought there would have been an uproar. It’s a continuation of the Stolen Generation.”

 These Aboriginal women stand as a ‘shining lamps’, beacons of hope for all!

What I have noticed as I hear each of these hope-filled stories is that each one ignites a spirit of hope in me. Like the experience of the disciples at Easter, despair and isolation gives way to hope and love as we walk together with the Risen Jesus.

So, I invite you all, whenever you stand at the crossroads between hope and despair this Easter to ponder these questions –

  • Can I truly say as a person of Mercy that I am a ‘shining lamp to all around me’?
  • Do I live the light of the Risen Jesus with gratitude?

Sally Bradley RSM
Executive Director,
Mercy Works

National Volunteer Week

Next month it’s National Volunteer Week so the perfect time to get in early to express our admiration and gratitude for our amazing team of volunteers across Australia! 
 
And a very special thank you to all our donors who make this volunteer program possible.  In Melbourne, we are grateful to the Collier Charitable Trust who support our largest Mercy Connect volunteer program, mentoring refugee and asylum seeker school and adult students across 50 educational facilities.
And they’re off! The first our our volunteers walk through the doormat 9am, eager to begin!

And there are so many reasons to celebrate. Our volunteers are keen and waiting! A few weeks back our team in Melbourne were excited to conduct a Training Day. Thirty participants are now all placed in schools and ready to begin their volunteering!

 
“We are stronger than before Covid,” says our  Mercy Connect Melbourne Coordinator, Sr Mary Lewis RSM.
“Old school friends met, there were morning tea bags and there was a lot of sharing, listening and learning.”
 

The team in Melbourne have also returned to the Mercy Connect Adult Literacy program at the Dandenong Library. Here Mercy Connect volunteers meet once a week with refugees to support them in learning English.

The first students arrive for the weekly literacy class at Dandenong Library – run by our Mercy Connect team
“The library doors opened at 9.00 am, the volunteers and students walked in, said hello to each other and by 9.05 all were back at the tables and carrying on from where they left off almost twelve months ago! It was amazing to see no fuss just get on with the task at hand,” said Sr Mary of their first gathering in March.
Our selfless volunteers are the lifeblood of this program and fulfil a need in the community by providing a smoother transition into schooling for primary, senior and adult students.
The support they provide for these students is immeasurable and makes such a difference to their lives and education, opening doors for their future success.
“I realise how much I treasure this wonderful opportunity that you and Mercy Works have given me, said one of our volunteers, Pauline.
“When I signed up for the program last year I knew I would enjoy it, but I had no idea how rewarding it would be.”
“It has really made me realise how much of a help I can be to young people,” said another of our volunteers. “Especially those from refugee backgrounds and how passionate I am in leading them to discover their abilities and ensure they know they can achieve anything they strive to.”
For Johanna, a new volunteer at Sacred Heart Primary School in Fitzroy, the training day was a gift.
“It was a real gift for me.  Of particular interest for me was a deepened understanding of the refugee experience and the child safety standards. I look forward to participating in this wonderful program that you set up and support. May God continue to bless your efforts,” she said.
New volunteer Peter, who will be working at St Luke’s Primary School, Wantirna, said the training day was challenging and informative.
“You clearly have a passion for the Mercy Connect ministry/mission. It’s clearly Spirit-filled. Good on you. God Bless!”
“Despite the disruptions of lockdowns, it has been a pleasure and a privilege to be able to get back in to ‘harness’ again. I must admit I was not handling my move from being a full time teacher into ‘enforced irrelevancy’ very well. The opportunity that Mercy Connect gave me was very important to my self-image and frame of mind. I was useful again,” said Brett, a current volunteer at Academy Secondary College, Fitzroy.
“It’s so good to be back!” said one of our volunteers.
Volunteerism empowers individuals to find their purpose, to take their passion, and turn it into meaningful change.
Mercy Connect was launched in Melbourne 2011 and since then has been devleoped by Sr Mary Lewis RSM. Under her guidance it has  grown into a program supporting the refugee and asylum seeker community in an indelible way.

 

As if there hadn’t been a pandemic in between! Our Mercy Connect volunteers get back to supporting refugees and asylum seekers at Dandenong Library in Melbourne where we hold weekly adult literacy classes. 
Prior to Covid, Mercy Connect Melbourne had 150 volunteers and operated in 53 Primary, Secondary Catholic and Government schools, supporting more than 595 students of a refugee background by providing literacy and numeracy support during class time.
In 2019 Mercy Connect won the Volunteering Victoria State Awards.
This program would not be able to operate without the generous and ongoing support of the Collier Charitable Trust.

Photos: Sr Mary Lewis RSM

 

A “V” for “Victory” over Covid!
Same time, same place. Our volunteers have been supporting adult literacy at Dandenong Library for many years now. 
Lining up for morning tea
 

The Power of One

The Power of One

SOWING SEEDS IN TIMOR-LESTE

It was during a UN-fact finding mission into the Baucau District that Laurentino Guterres, who was acting as an interpreter for several UN bodies leading up to Timor-Leste’s official independence, met a blind woman who ran her own business.

He began organising regular group meetings of people with a disability, with the blind woman as the key spokesperson. Two decades later, that group has grown to over 250 disabled people across 13 remote villages, and now employs six locals.

Children learning braille from Dili University students at the Katilosa School for Disabled in Bacau Timor Leste.

The Katilosa Community Centre for the Disabled is one of three Mercy Works projects in Timor-Leste. Run in partnership with the Australian Marist Solidarity (AMS), this local NGO supports children, youth and adults with a disability with a goal of good health, quality education and reducing inequalities.

The centre provides physiotherapy, assessments, referrals, and support as well as an Inclusive Education program for children and adults unable to attend their local schools. Despite the centre having to adapt in Covid to a full outreach support model, 97 children and adults were still delivered services.

Staff visited the homes of the disabled and carried out at-home therapy, teaching families how to do self-therapy in between scheduled visits, as well as Covid safety sessions and distributing school equipment.

And in further good news, students from Dili University are now helping in the centre, teaching visually impaired students Braille and how to communicate. According to Laurentino the children have made “remarkable progress in just a few days”.

“They are keen to learn this form of communication,” he says.

Brother Paul Gilchrist, who was able to visit the centre in November, also observed a music and maths lesson taking place at the centre.

One of the wonderful aspects of Katilosa is that it employs people with disabilities as well as helping others with disabilities prepare for work. This in turn reduces inequalities and increases public awareness as people with disabilities often face discrimination in Timor-Leste. In a visit in January of this year, AMS staff reported local community members explain how Katilosa was helping them understand and accept people with a disability.

 

The House of Hope

‘BALAY BANAAG OFFERS THESE GIRLS A FUTURE’

It’s fitting that Balay Banaag – one of two projects Mercy Works is proud to partner with in The Philippines – translates to “House of Hope”.

For the 15 girls aged between six and 18 who live and learn here, all daughters of females working in prostitution, the residential centre provides shelter, support, education, and an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty for girls “at risk”.

Located in Davao City and in partnership with the Australian Marist Solidarity, Balay Banaag aims to provide a protective and caring environment, as well as emotional and psychological support to these children to help them overcome their painful abuse experiences. The aim is to transition them back to mainstream schooling.

One Marist priest, who visited the centre recently, reported the girls who live there describe Balay Banaag as being like a security camera, such is the safety they feel.

“For them, Balay Banaag has modelled them to become better persons…they feel supported and cared for. Their stay has changed their way of thinking, that is, to make studies a priority for their future. They know the sisters are looking after them and are ready to support them for food and shelter and they feel home and safe. Balay Banaag is a home where they can freely express themselves and develop their gifts and talent,” wrote the priest who visited the residence in November 2021.

“They are empowered and guided well. They described Balay Banaag like a CCTV in a positive way, that monitors and guides them and keeps them safe.”

 

Smiling children at the Balay Banaag Centre in the Philippines

The girls who live here are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. It is one of the most impoverished communities in The Philippines. Many have experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse and face discrimination because they are daughters of prostitutes. They participate in life skills training, therapeutic and counselling sessions and maintain collaborative relationships with their mothers and families.

“If this project did not exist, I think the girls would be lost and go hungry. I think there is no other place that can accommodate the children of the prostituted women in the city… the children would be working in the streets like their mothers. Child prostitution would be rampant. This project is special that needs expertise and dedication to work for children in need of protection. Many children like them would become victims of abuse and exploitation without the service of Balay Banaag.”

And despite the challenging impacts of Covid, which saw restrictions imposed and visitations with their mothers limited, Mercy Works is proud to share two girls from the centre were re-integrated back into their family in October 2021.

“Balay Banaag offers these girls a future with dignity, hope and independence,” says our outgoing Overseas Project Manager Sister Anne Foale RSM.

 

Silent Continuation of the Stolen Generation

DEMANDS FOR THE SA GOVERNMENT TO ACT FALLS ON DEAF EARS

Mercy Work’s Adelaide First Nations Advocacy project – known as Nunga Babies Watch – has called upon the South Australian Government for immediate action to end another Stolen Generation from happening.

“We demand an end to the arbitrary taking of our children and their placement in non-indigenous settings,” says one action of the 20-point statement, presented by members of the Nunga Babies Watch in partnership with the Grannies Group (respected Elders in the community).

“We are strongly and irrevocably opposed to the adoption of our children from non- kinship, out-of-home, residential care and/ or foster care. We do not want ‘assimilation’ of our children to continue, nor do we want a silent continuation of the Stolen Generation,” said the statement, presented by Ngadjuri woman Aunty Pat Waria-Read, at South Australian Parliament House in December.

In South Australia, one in every 11 Indigenous children lives in state care, and only 53% are placed with their family or kin. The latest report by the SA Guardian for Children and Young People shows the number of Aboriginal children in out-of- home care has increased from 4,370 children to 4,647 between June 2020
and June 2021, an increase of 6.3%.

Aunty Pat, who also heads our Mercy Works Salt N’ Pepper Adelaide project, a pre-release and post-release outreach program for Aboriginal women in prison, is disappointed the group have had no response.

“This is a national disgrace. Months later and there’s been no response from the Ministers, I thought there would be an uproar. It’s a continuation of the Stolen Generation.”

Members of the Nunga Babies Watch and Grannies Group (L-R)  Julie Toyama, Louise Davies, Jean Pinkie, Dorothy Young, Diana Grose, Pat Waria-Read, with SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros.

Included in their submissions is the call for an Independent Aboriginal Controlled Child Care Agency, and an Aboriginal panel to review decisions taken by the Department of Child Protection (DCP).

“We’re not going to let it stop us, even if we get no response. We’re going to get on with the business so we can inform people. We’re going to go on raising the issue with Aboriginal women. Our Voice is connecting with the community.

“The DCP has to be held accountable for its decisions in the taking away of our children. If an Aboriginal child can’t stay with their mother, follow the mother’s bloodline and you’ll find some-one who can look after that child.”

The Mercy Works Project came about after Aunty Pat, a former chaplain for the Department of Correctional Services, saw first-hand the DCP taking children away from their mothers while they are in hospital, or as soon as they are in jail, often presenting them with an order to take their children into residential care until they are 18 and without being informed they have a right to a lawyer.

Aunty Pat, who heads both our Nunga Babies Watch and Salt N’ Pepper Project in Adelaide, pictured here with our outgoing Mercy Works Project Co-ordinator Sr Anne Foale RSM in Adelaide.

Mercy Works is proud to partner with this project, along with our other six First Nations Projects, to work in partnership towards Closing The Gap and breaking the cycle.

You can read the full statement presented to parliament here:

Statement to Parliament Actions Final version (1)

Baby Nunga Watch Actions Statement to Parliament Page 1
Baby Nunga Watch Statement To Parliament Page 2