Mercy Works would like to say a big thank you for the overwhelming support we received for our June 2023 Tax Appeal – Economic Empowerment in PNG.
Your generous donations well exceeded our target of $10,000 for this project, reaching a wonderful $19,160.
This money will go to our Simbu Project in PNG where our microfinancing initiative, the Leave No One Behind Village and Life Savings Association (LNB – VSLA) is creating economic empowerment and improving the lives of the people of Simbu.
Essentially, the entrepreneurial capacity of individuals, families and communities is enhanced by promoting a saving culture and increasing access to credit to enable them to embark on income generating activities to sustain and improve their livelihoods. It is a collaborative effort taken by the local community towards financial freedom.
Sr Maryanne Kolkia RSM, who heads up the initiative, says she is incredibly grateful for the support.
“The Leave No One Behind Village Savings and Loans Association is inspiring and exciting,” says Sr Maryanne. “Every month, more requests are coming from people of all walks of life. The impact of their stories is spreading like wildfire.
“Our sincere word of gratitude and deep appreciation for your generosity. Without your support, our financial journey towards Economic Freedom and Empowerment would not be possible. Your reaching out is our strength and motivation. Thanks for being part of own our journey in generating an income through the LNB- VSLA.”
WATCH NOW! Learn More about our Economic Empowerment initiative in PNG here:
Our Nunga Babies Watch Project(NBW) in Adelaide continues to advocate and work together with Aboriginal people to ensure their voice is heard and their Rights are respected when interacting with the Department for Child Protection in South Australia.
There have been small progresses forward, including the February delivery of Auntie Pat’s speech in South Australian Parliament House by local member Connie Banaros, the NBW team working with the University of SA to bring Social Work students to Tauondi Aboriginal College in Port Adelaide to do a more intensive cultural awareness program and the Aboriginal Voice to SA Parliament Bill being passed at a special sitting on March 26th.
However, there is still much to be done. The NBW July update highlights the glaring inconsistency between what the Department for Child Protection (DCP) say they will do as opposed to what they actually do when interacting with Aboriginal families.
Among the list of common complains about the Department for Child Protection (DCP) in SA are, what NBW calls, “Opportunistic behaviour by DCP”. The report states that “informing a family member of DCP plans to take a child before the required process of Child Safeguarding Due Diligence and or the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle (ATSICPP) is (not?) meaningfully accounted for. [There is] No substantive involvement of family, Aboriginal practitioner support person and or sharing of necessary information will create the opportunity for this type of behaviour.”
“The DCP appearing to do whatever they want, when they want with no accountability… No evidence is forthcoming to show active efforts have been genuinely and actively used, to achieve the priority of placing a child in kinship care.”
“And no translator or Aboriginal practitioner present – not knowing what is being signed, not wanting to say anything, for fear of saying the wrong thing….resulting in trauma of not understanding why a child is taken. DCP repeatedly do not have Aboriginal practitioners or support person present.”
NBW, supported by Mercy Works, exists to support Aboriginal families Voice when interacting with DCP. “If Aboriginal Voices aren’t heard, engaged with or encouraged, or silenced, and due diligence applied to the process, an opportunistic behaviour by DCP becomes evident. With no accountability, there seems a rushed pre-determined agenda toward long term ‘orders.’,” say the group.
A recent Summary Statement of Investigation by the Ombudsman SA, highlights DCP issues in response to complaints. NBW describes this as “another example as a culture of mis-guided use, or non-compliance of social work practice and statutory obligations.”
One summary statement included in this report https://www.ombudsman.sa.gov.au/publications/investigation-reports/2023-investigation-decisions stated: “While not legislatively incorrect, the department’s actions and omissions created a risk of the child being disconnected from family and culture long term, contrary to the intended outcomes of the ATSICPP (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle). This matter highlights the risks associated with superficial compliance with the ATSICPP.”
The Ombudsman also concluded that the department erred in its handling of the complaint, and incorrectly applied its complaint handling policy, which resulted in the client being denied the right to an internal review of the department’s placement decisions.
The Ombudsman has made four recommendations to address some of the issues identified, which the department accepted.
Mercy Works is proud to continue to support this important project to stop “another stolen generation” from occurring in South Australia.
Ukrainian student Khrystyna, 6, loves kangaroos and the library in her new school, but misses her cat, Jessie. Her friend, Daneliia, 6, misses her old Kindergarten class back home, but loves the Opera House and the beaches in Australia.
Both girls have been in Australia for a year after having to leave their homeland in the Ukraine, due to the war. They are now happily settling into their new classroom at St Joachim’s Catholic Primary School in Lidcombe.
Khrystyna and Daneliia are part of the Mercy Connect Refugee, Asylum seekers and Humanitarian background program, which has been operating in schools since 2008, to assist school students, groups of adults and their families from refugee backgrounds adjust to life in Australia.
We recruit, train and support 128 volunteer mentors supporting 968 students in 68 schools in Western Australia, Victoria and NSW as well as five adult classes.
For students who are refugees and those seeking asylum, adjusting to a whole new life in Australia presents many challenges. Many of them arrive in Australia after having experienced lengthy periods of dislocation, grief and trauma.
Two of our trained MC volunteers, Sr Flo Snell and Jan Finkelstein, have been working in classrooms every Wednesday for seven years at St Joachim’s, to help with students who need extra support.
“We’ve been fortunate and lucky enough to have Mercy Connect work in our school and have two wonderful educators who come and work with us in our kindergarten room,” says Maria Maiorana, Principal at St Joachim’s.
“They’re both volunteers, but we’ve just been so grateful to have two experience educators who are willing to come and share their knowledge and expertise with our teachers and students. They are so loved in the school, the children absolutely adore them, and they are constantly asking when is Miss Flo coming? When is Miss Jan coming? Is today their day?
Maria says Lidcombe is in a prime position to accept students from The Ukraine because they are so close to the Ukrainian Church which is only a few doors down from the school.
“Because of that community we have been very fortunate to have some Ukrainian students come to join our school community, and some of those little ones are also in our kindy room and they have also had the benefit of being involved with Mercy Connect. Just being in community everyone feels they belong to one community. So we have children from Ukraine, from China, from Korea, India, the Philippines – so when you come to St Joachim’s everyone belongs. We all come from different parts of the world, but we all share the same values we hold the same things important and that’s what makes our school super special.”
The Mercy Connect volunteers help with many different aspects of curriculum in the classroom. They work with literacy curriculum, listening to students read, helping them with their writing sometimes with numeracy and other aspects of their work.
“But the most important aspect is the way they connect with the student and that special sense of care that’s offered that everybody belongs, and the world is made up of so many different people and here in our classroom we can accept and see the giftedness that everybody has. It’s good for the students to see we have the youngest students and we’ve got the older members of society together all working for the same thing,” says Maria.
Kindergarten teacher Jacqueline Doherty says she really couldn’t do it without our Mercy Connect mentors!
“Some of the kids who struggled at the beginning [with their English] have really made massive improvements that they’ve been more verbal in the way they speak to others, and they want to do more to help me and themselves in the classroom. Miss Flo and I working as a team to set these kids for life so they can go out into the world and be awesome,” she says.
“Having someone like Miss Flo side by side with the students builds confidence, self-esteem, well being and social skills. Miss Flo has given kindergarten the need for connection with adults and it presents a picture of how older adults can contribute we just love her. She’s amazing. I have appreciated every minute she has spent in the class with us. And what can I say? I appreciate it. She really enhances the vibe in the classroom.”
Sr Flo became a volunteer with Mercy Connect because she was looking for something more to do.
“The children themselves are a breath of fresh air but I’ve got to say this there’s a lot of tragedy in the world today and drama and things they drag us down. But I come in here and this just gives me life. I actually absolutely love it….I go home exhausted but it’s a refreshing kind of exhaustion!
Principal Maria says she can’t praise her experience with Mercy Connect enough.
“Anyone who would be lucky enough to have Mercy Connect come and work with them can expect only wonderful things out of an association with them. They bring not only support into the classroom, but they bring that sense of human connectedness that everyone strives to have in their school, so I could only highly praise the experience I’ve had with Mercy Connect and only offer my words of acknowledgment for what they’ve done and how they have assisted our school and our students.”
Mercy Connect welcomes your school to join our program. Or if you would like to volunteer with our Mercy Connect Program click on the link below
WATCH NOW! Mercy Connect at St Joachim’s Primary School
Our Hilltop Road Adult Literacy Class reached an all-time high in May as they embarked on their first excursion.
The adult literacy learners are from the Hilltop Road Community Centre in Sydney, run by Catherine Gregory, The Community Liaison Officer at Hilltop Road Public School, where Mercy Connect provides volunteers to support students from refugee and asylum seeker background.
The Adult Literacy Classes empower their parents to learn English so they can help their children in their school and adapt to their new life in Australia.
“Well, I can truly say, Monday’s excursion was the highlight of my 17 years here at Hilltop Road!” says Catherine.
“Sherry (a Mercy Connect volunteer) opened her house to the Mums, and they didn’t want to leave!”
For most of our adult literacy learners, it was the first time they had been invited to an Aussie’s house or a house outside their own family.
Nothing makes Esther* happier than making clothes for others.
The 32-year-old asylum seeker from Papua New Guinea is a participant in Mercy Works partnership with the Romero Centre – Gateways To Employment for People Seeking Asylum – in Brisbane, which has so far helped 20 women and 17 men gain employment since last July.
There are many challenges facing people seeking asylum in Australia, including financial – which often leads to homelessness and destitution. Lack of employment also impacts on welfare, mental and physical health and children. Isolated, uncertain and frightened, it’s a complicated system to navigate.
For women like Esther, finding a job can be particularly difficult. Many come from a cultural background where paid employment for women is not widely available. And many, particularly those from PNG, are fleeing domestic violence and have sole child caring responsibilities – an additional barrier. Others have lived in detention for a prolonged period and 70% of participants have flashbacks from trauma they have experienced.
Which is why we are so proud to help women like Esther safely enter the workforce.
After approaching The Romero Centre for support last October, she was able to apply for a protection visa and was granted a bridging visa with work rights.
It was during this three-month process Esther engaged in several workshops under the Mercy Works partnership program including a workshop with Mater Hospital for Workplace Health and Covid 19 Protocols; a workshop with MCW Lawyers for Safety and Employment Rights and Obligations; Group ESL and individual tutorials and a cultural mentoring workshop as well as an excursion with her peers. She also attended a workplace group visit in a café and undertook a trial shift.
But it was not the right fit.
So, with Mercy Works support, she decided to focus on what she loves to do: Sewing!
Esther began applying for tailoring jobs, as she had some experience in that field. “Sewing clothes is my natural gift,” she says. “Nothing makes me happier than making clothes for others.”
Once her work rights arrived, she applied for five tailoring jobs and was invited to two job interviews, ultimately receiving a job offer as a commercial tailor.
“With her skills, passion and help of Romero Centre staff, she started her dream job not even three weeks from the day she was granted work permission to work in Australia!” says Misha Emingerova, a case worker at Romero.
With a regular income, Esther will now be able to continue her settlement in Australia and support her family back home financially.
“She is now onto her next step – obtaining a Queensland drivers licence!” says Misha proudly.
This empowering project is seeing fantastic results. It supports asylum seekers from over 40 cultural groups, with a particular focus on women, to gain work experience and employment and to address the barriers they face from a lack of English language skills, resources and networks. Pathways to employment are strengthened by linking participants to real-world employers within our Mercy Partners and business association networks.
For thousands of years Raukkan, 80 kilometres southeast of Adelaide, was an important meeting place for the Ngarrindjeri people. It is the home and heartland of Ngarrindjeri country, a place with a deep and scarred history.
It was here, in the 1800’s, a starving explorer Charles Sturt was fed by Aboriginal clans and the Point McLeay Mission was established. From here some of the first Aboriginal men to enlist in World War 1 came, and, here, a generation of Aboriginal children were stolen.
Raukkan also appears on our Australian fifty dollar note, with Ngarrindjeri man David Unaipon, Australia’s first published Aboriginal author, born at Point McLeay Mission.
So it is more than fitting that this year’s Kura Yerlo ‘Yartangka Tirkanthi’ camp, supported by Mercy Works, saw 10 boys and girls visit the sacred area for an overnight camp to reconnect to country. They made a fire, toasted marshmallows and were welcomed by Uncle Bobo.
“I can’t explain how happy this makes me feel, or even the feeling of bringing our own mobs together to connect. It gives me so much joy knowing one day they will come back and say, ‘I remember this fella once did this tour’,” said Uncle Bobo.
Kura Yerlo hopes to give young people access to cultural and language opportunities away from metropolitan Adelaide.
“We hope to build a sense of pride in identity, belonging and resilience and that the trips will be a vehicle for healing,” says Claire Fleckner from Kura Yerlo.
“Reconnecting with local elders will create an opportunity for the ongoing survival of Indigenous culture and pride in heritage. This process honours the potential of our young people to one day become new Elders, passing on their knowledge of language and culture and ensuring the survival of traditional skills.”
Jayla, 13, (pictured below) enjoyed engaging with her Aboriginal heritage. She has since developed a renewed interest in her culture and developed an interest in basket weaving from Aunty Betty Sumner.
Aunty Betty creates elaborate mats. “The closest thing to my ancestors is my weaving, especially when I go to stand on my mat. I feel what my ancestors felt. I weave my identity within it. When you first start it it’s like the umbilical cord. Like the umbilical cord of life.”
By reconnecting with local elders, hearing their stories, learning their skills, Jayla says she hopes to spend more time on country as well as participate in a “girl’s group” facilitated by an Elder at the school.
Josepha, a 76-year-old widow, lives in Simbu Province in Papua New Guinea.
When her husband died, she became the breadwinner of her household, providing for her three children who were very young, sending them to school, looking after their basic necessities and meeting their traditional obligations.
“Because of my outstanding contribution and hard work in raising a lot of pigs, saving thousands of kina and producing sufficient food supply and meeting all customary obligations, the clan leaders in my clan acknowledged my efforts, time and commitment and told me to rest, not to work hard anymore; and wait to die,” Josepha says.
She obeyed. But she was left vulnerable, impoverished and malnourished.
“I had no other plan in life. My house and garden were covered with bushes. Nobody in the village, even my in-laws and my grandchildren [were] coming to my need, I was hungry, I had no food, or money or even no clothes to wear. It was sad that I sometimes go to bed without having any food.”
The one Sunday in July 2022, Josepha went to church and heard about Mercy Works 30-kina (A$13) project. Thanks to generosity of people like you, Josepha was able to join Mercy Works micro financing enterprise, the 30-Kina project, where she was given money on loan to purchase feed for her three ducks.
“Without any hesitation, I was given the money…One of my female ducks laid a total of eighteen eggs and nine eggs hatched into a total of nine ducklings. I was happy that I sold five ducklings for twenty kina each, earning a total of one hundred kina (A$?).
After two weeks, she returned her thirty kina back to Mercy Works.
“I learned that just sitting down and lazing around doing nothing was over. I was motivated to join others to prepare cassava lunch, mushroom farming, training children about traditional values on Saturdays and participating in Leave No One Behind Village Savings and Loans Association (LNB-VSLA).”
The LNB-VSLA is an extension of the 30-Kina project whereby participants are given start-up capital to engage in an income generating activity of their choice. Once earning a regular income, the participant is encouraged to join a ‘Leave No One Behind Savings and Loan Association’ group – which are self-managed groups where members meet fortnightly to save their money in a safe box and access small loans from their own groups savings. You can read more about our LNB – VSLA’s here.
Josepha is one of the three key holders for her group’s lockbox.
“I underestimated my resilience and inner strength to contribute meaningfully to the lives of others and to help sustain my own well-being.
I felt that I was too old to do anything and am done with my life. But that concept of mine was not approved by Mercy Works. Mercy Works believes in me, convincing me that start believe in myself and the potential I have in me.”
Josepha says she now sees Mercy Works as a “light house for my life”.
“Mercy Works has given me new hope and direction in my life. I am amazed that I feel young at heart. I planted taro, beans, cassava and sweet potato.
“I have money, food, a new garden and the number of my ducks increased to forty-five. I contribute with the rest of the LNB – VSLA members, purchasing one to five shares every two weeks.
“At the end of every month, we conduct loans meeting, [and it’s] time to repay loans and give loans to new members.”
Josepha says before Mercy Works she was feeling and behaving like “an old woman’.
But now, she has meaning and purpose.
“I particularly like about Mercy Works strength in mobilizing people and community power within to drive their own development agenda. Mercy Works gives hope to both young and old, rich and poor.
“With Mercy Works, I have a bright future, I am working with my grandchildren to live a meaningful life when I am gone and done with my life.
“I do appreciate Mercy Works program, it’s the best program for the people, with the people, by the people and for the people. I know that many lives will be changed with Mercy Works.”
This tax time, you can support more people like Josepha to educate them on how to better manage their livelihoods, resources and improve their well-being in a sustainable way to escape the cycle of poverty.
Donate now to transform the lives of people like Josepha.
Mercy Works NEEDS YOUR HELP to reach our goal of $10,000 for our micro-financing activities.
YOUR HELP WILL enable us to continue this LIFE-CHANGING work providing start up capital to groups who are then able to financially mobilise and empower themselves and break the cycle of poverty.
If any funds remain after we reach our goal, they will go to further support the participants in our Simbu Program in Papua New Guinea.
Having worked in PNG for 16 years, Sr Maryanne Kolkia RSM, our Project Coordinator in Simbu, saw the need for change.
Simbu may be a beautiful rugged mountainous area in the central highlands, but access to basic services such as education and health remains limited, especially in the remote areas. Domestic violence and sexual abuse against women and children is all too common, food is scarce and the cycle of poverty is hard to break.
“I was thinking there must be a way. And then it came to me: Financial mobilisation!”
Enter Sr Maryanne’s microfinancing initiative; the Leave No One Behind Village and Life Savings Association (LNB – VSLA) which is creating economic empowerment and improving the lives of the people of Simbu.
Essentially, the entrepreneurial capacity of individuals, families and communities is enhanced by promoting a saving culture and increasing access to credit to enable them to embark on income generating activities to sustain and improve their livelihoods. It is a collaborative effort taken by the local community towards financial freedom.
Sr Maryanne started the initiative with one group of 4 men and 11 women (Cycle 1). There are now 25 ‘Leave No One Behind’ groups of members in Simbu – with 30 members in each group, totalling 676 members – 627 of which are women – as well several different initiatives.
“Thinking big but starting small is the concept. And with the microfinancing we are looking at ways in which people can mobilise financially to achieve bigger dreams and a better life,” says Sr Maryanne.
“I believe every individual has the potential to excel that further. I believe in economic empowerment, and we are looking at the potential with the people that they will make a change.”
How it works: The ‘Piggy Bank’
Mercy Works gives a small loan as start-up capital of 30 Kina (A$13) to individuals who wish to help themselves. With that 30 Kina they are given two weeks to engage in some income generating activity of their choice.
After two weeks this money must be returned to Mercy Works so it can be passed on to another participant. Once they are earning a regular income, they are encouraged and invited to join a Leave No One Behind Savings and Loan Association group (LNB – VSLA).
Hereby a group will meet fortnightly and put their money into a money box. This stores the currency and groups equip their lockbox with a padlock and assign the keys to three members, all women. During transactions and meetings, all three key holders must be present in order to unlock the box.
Some members request a small loan from their group savings to be approved of the group’s members decide to share their earnings. This stimulates increased economic activity in the villages. This amount must be repaid back to the group’s money box within three months.
Representatives from the groups and clans are then able to show case their products, advertising and promoting each other’s products so they can buy and sell among themselves, as well as externally.
For example one woman was able to give K5,000 (A$2,175) to her husband to build their house. Another bought a mobile phone for her grandson. One clan raised K11,000 (A$4,800) from faming bulb onions. Another woman is selling woodwork at the local markets using the savings loan. Others make payments on loans they already have, with interest – typically.
At any time most of the groups saving are in circulation as loans.
Mercy Works also provides life skills and technical training, so people of all ages can start their own business. They receive training in baking, food processing, organic farming practices and financial management. This increases people’s access to and control over resources.
Mercy Works also helps identify the food chain – the supplier, retailer and consumer – linking businesses with the financial members of the VSLA.
In nine months, a total of 18 of these VLSA meetings were conducted. Out of the 25 groups, nine groups raised a total of K100,800.200 (A$43,800) which was distributed equally among members.
Of note is that 88% of participants in these SME’s are women – with all leadership roles being females as well. Pressure in these rural areas is often on women to meet the daily needs of themselves, their children, their family and others.
“The idea is to build up what you get and give back to reach out to others,” says Sr Maryanne.“This makes people feel loved and cared for. It promotes individual potential and boosts achieving personal ambitions. At the same time, working in collaboration promotes mutual trust, respect and reduces jealousy.
“It has been well embraced by all. In the process of growth, development and maturity, it continues to open up, brings its fragrance forth and its goodness invites many to respond with excitement.”
Word of mouth has generated much interest in the Mercy Works initiative, with people in villages and clans taking their own initiative to mobilise and engage in development activities to contribute to their livelihoods.
Which is how Josepha, a widow and mother of three, who has turned her life around through the LNB – VSLA, first heard of the idea.
Read Josepha’s Joyful Journey here: “Mercy Works is a Lighthouse for my life”
It’s National Volunteer Week and we here at Mercy Connect know the impact volunteers can make.
We want you to meet Kerry, a volunteer with Mercy Connect for many years who volunteers at our Dandenong Library in Melbourne. She has been helping Khadija over the past year to attain her dream of becoming an Australian citizen.
Khadija is in her early 30’s and has been attending our Mercy Connect Adult Literacy Class in the Dandenong Library since the early days of the program in 2017. The morning she arrived, she had her sister and three nieces with her – all who had recently arrived in Australia.
All very keen to learn English, it was not long before we learnt that Khadija, who is unmarried, and two of her nieces lived together next door to her sister, husband and three other children. The nieces who joined us were in their mid to late teens. Too old for school and too young to be with us – because they had the ability to be in a formal education setting to progress to higher education. We were able to secure a placement for the three girls at St Joseph’s Flexible Learning Centre they were able to continue their education and complete their VCE Exam.
But this was not an option for Khadija.
Khadija’s education had never been a priority for the family. She continues to come to Mercy Connect Literacy Program alone and our volunteers say her smiling face coming through the door every week lights up the room. Khadija finds learning English difficult but that does not put her off. Every week she is determined to learn.
One Friday in the middle of last year she told us she was going to become an Australian Citizen and wanted to study the questions for the exam. This was a huge task for her. Every week Khadija and her Mercy Connect Volunteer Tutor, Kerry, would go through sets of questions and readings from the Citizenship Booklet, then testing what had been studied during their time together. Even Kerry acknowledged she learnt some facts and figures about Australia she had never heard of.
Two weeks before the end of term Khadija‘s smile was even bigger than before. She had done the exam and passed. She is now an Australian Citizen. And we are very proud.
What does the future look like for Khadija? As her English continues to improve she has many options open to her either as further study or in the workforce. She has worked hard and deserves to make great progress in her life. More importantly she developed a bond with her Mercy Connect Volunteer tutor making the world a better place.
At Mercy Works we believe there will always be a place for Mercy Connect to support people such as Khadija who would otherwise remain alone and disconnected from society.
“I love working with the adults as part of the Mercy Connect Program…I think it’s a really valuable program and hopefully Khadija is benefitting,” says Kerry.
We know she is.
Become a volunteer today with our Mercy Connect Team.
You can apply here by filling in the form online or downloading the PDF
A message of ‘Light and Hope’ for this Easter Season from Executive Director, Sr Sally Bradley RSM
I have walked this path to Easter this year very conscious of my own recent visit to Papua New Guinea. It was an experience of moving from darkness to the light, passing on the Easter light, the light of the Risen Jesus.
Maria (our Overseas Program Manager) and I had the joy of visiting our Mercy Works projects in PNG for two weeks in February. We had not been able to visit since 2019, due to Covid.
All the challenges of life in PNG are still very real. Some are even heightened since the pandemic. Coming from a privileged lifestyle in Australia, I find these challenges very confronting! There is extreme poverty. Climate change is severe across the country and the poorest are impacted the most. The access to connectivity by either phone or internet has worsened. Examples of corruption at the government level abound. Ensuing frustration is often bubbling just below the surface. One of the consequences of the frustration and hopelessness is an escalation in violence.
While acknowledging all these challenges of life in PNG, I experienced hope and light. Whenever I visit PNG I am always touched by the warmth of the people, their deep faith, their strong sense of family and community, and the beauty of the countryside. We heard many uplifting Mercy Works stories. TheMercy Works program in Simbu aims to improve the living standards of vulnerable people by building skills and capacities to enable them to develop their own economic and social development. On reflection it was for me an experience of passing on the Easter light, a light which overcomes all darkness.
A key activity of our work in Simbu, is the Leave No One Behind project, a village savings and loan scheme. The local people begin initially with a small loan from Mercy Works of 30 kina (about $13 AUD) as start-up capital to engage in some income generating activity of their choice. After two weeks this must be returned to Mercy Works so it can be passed on to another participant. Once they are earning a regular income, they are encouraged to join a Leave No One Behind savings and credit group. These groups are self-managed, and members meet fortnightly to save their money in a safe place and then access small loans from their group savings. Mercy Works also provides life skills and technical training, so people of all ages can start their own business. They receive training in baking, food processing, organic farming practices and financial management. This increases people’s access to and control over resources.
The staff and the local people were so eager to share their good news stories with us as part of the Mercy Works program in Simbu, stories of light and hope. One morning we met in a hall with the women in Kundiawa. One woman stood up and proudly shared the story of how she was able to fix her car and now help others to transport their produce to sell at the markets. Another woman told us that she was able to buy timber for her husband to build a new house, while another woman has started a poultry business. A grandmother shared with us that she was able to buy a mobile phone for her grandson, while another has bought a fridge. One woman and her husband are building a small restaurant. She promised to invite all who were present to a free meal together to celebrate its opening. The women are growing in self-confidence and self-reliance as they develop their own livelihoods.
We constantly heard phrases such as – “We now see the light and we want to do more.”
One afternoon we drove in the pouring rain up the steep mountain to the village of Gemboghl. We gathered in a tin shed. About 70 villagers had travelled for hours on foot to meet with us. They displayed their produce, and each clan shared their stories. One very proud farmer shared his credit group’s achievements with us. He held up a jar of money – 11,000 kina (about $5,000 AUD). This money has been raised from farming bulb onions. Another woman shared the beautiful woodwork which her clan have made using their savings loan. They plan to sell it at the local markets.
One of the men summed it all up by saying – “Before Mercy Works we had no plans in our village, now we all contribute to our livelihood. We want to excel in what we are doing. We want to share the light.”
As I listened to these uplifting Mercy Works stories of hope and change, I was reminded of the service of light which is the powerful ceremony at the beginning of the Easter vigil. This begins in the dark as the Easter fire is lit outside. The large Easter candle is lit from this blazing fire and each person lights their own candle, passing on the light to each other. The darkness is gradually lit up. It is a moment of exuberant joy and thanksgiving.
The Leader proclaims – “Christ our Light.” We all respond – “Thanks be to God.”
As I listened to these stories in PNG, these words echoed in my own heart. So, I invite you this Easter to listen attentively for stories in your own life in which the Easter light of Christ is passed onto others. Stories of hope which lift your spirit … And in the words of Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy, I invite us all to “be shining lamps bringing light to all around us” this Easter.
Sally Bradley RSM
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