Closing the Gap
It’s National Close the Gap Day today – and we here at Mercy Works would like to acknowledge the ongoing strength and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in sustaining the world’s oldest living cultures.
In December of 2021, the Mercy Works Adelaide First Nations Advocacy project – known as Nunga Babies Watch – called upon the South Australian Government for immediate action to end another Stolen Generation from happening.
One action of the 20-point statement said: “We demand an end to the arbitrary taking of our children and their placement in non-indigenous settings
“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.
“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 Statement was presented by Ngadjuri woman Aunty Pat Waria-Read and members of the Nunga Babies Watch in partnership with the Grannies Group (respected Elders in the community) to South Australian Parliament House in December 2021. For over a year there was little response.
As the months ticked on, Aunty Pat and the Nunga Babies Watch team watched as Aboriginal men, women and children continued to be incarcerated at such a disproportionately high rate that Australia, according to the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project 202, ‘owns a humanitarian crisis as the mother of jailers of its First People.’
In November NBW attended the ‘Have your say on SA’s child protection legislation and proposed 17 amendments to the legislation.
Christmas did not slow the rate at which Aboriginal children were taken by the Department for Child Protection.
On February 21, Connie Bonaros, Member of the Legislative Council of South Australia, delivered a speech by Aunty Pat to SA Parliament House reading Auntie Pat’s words from the heart, with understanding and compassion.
Here is the statement:
“Before settlement Aboriginal people had a voice, an ancient voice. Our voice has travelled through time, from the beginning.
Our Elders guide us with their wisdom and stories.
Our voice makes a difference!
But today our voice is not heard, we are not listened to, we are silenced.
The Voice in Government can stop on-going trauma, judgemental and racist behaviour towards our Aboriginal families and communities.
Our voice can stop our families and communities from being punished, keep our children from the juvenile justice system, the Department for Child Protection, out of prison and stop our unborn babies from being ‘red flagged’ and then taken.
Our voice can ensure our children remain with family, community and stay connected to culture. Keeping our children linked to their culture gives us hope for our future. Ourchildrenlie at the heart of who we are.
Our voice is our community. Our voice strengthens, heals and builds resilience in support of our health, safety and wellbeing.
The Voice in Government will be the voice of our communities,families and children.
The Voice will ensure the voices of our Aboriginal nations in SA are heard.
Our voice will be heard not silenced.”
NBW would like to acknowledge Connie’s enduring support over many years and collaboration with Auntie Pat in preparation and delivery of this speech. In addition, we thank Connie, Jody (Senior Advisor) and Tina, for their ongoing commitment to enable the authentic voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be heard.
Included in the original NBW submissions made to parliament on the Taking of Aboriginal Children was 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).
Mercy Works partnership with this 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 without being informed they have a right to a lawyer.
Mercy Works is proud to partner with this project, along with our other four First Nations Projects, to work in partnership towards Closing The Gap and breaking the cycle. You can read the full statement here:
Dhiel Yen, a young mum who is the beneficiary of a Mercy Works Tertiary Scholarship Program, believes she was always destined to work with children and adults with a disability.
Currently volunteering with Callan Service for the Disabled, Dhiel, 26, is hoping to secure a future in a paid position as a Community Health Worker.
When she was a baby, a local woman with a disability, who she grew to love very much, minded her while her mother worked full time as a schoolteacher.
“I think I enjoy working with children and adults who have special needs because of my own story,” Dhiel says. “I really enjoy the work. Some people have Down syndrome, learning difficulties, blindness and cerebral palsy and I assist them with physical exercises.
“They so often laugh and are very happy people! I especially enjoy visiting the homes of those who cannot go out. Often family members are really shy about their loved one’s special needs. If the person is bored at home, I play them a movie on my mobile phone and sometimes I assist the teacher with the children in the classrooms.”
Dhiel attended St Gabriel’s Technical Secondary School in Kiunga and completed Year 12 before applying for a scholarship to study to be a Community Health Worker at Rumginae Tertiary College on the advice of Mercy Works Kiunga Coordinator, Steven Dude. She proudly graduated in 2022 and is currently waiting to receive her licence.
One boy, who is blind that comes to Callan Services, has especially capture her heart. The boy’s grandfather looks after him as his mother died and his father left, taking his twin abled sister with him.
“He loves singing, and given that he cannot see, I find it amazing that he can catch a ball! His sense of hearing often compensates for his lack of sight.”
Refugee Role Model
For six years, Janu Amuan, the principal (head teacher) at West Montford Primary School in the remote Iowara region, struggled to see his village school shut down.
Janu, who considers himself a pioneer refugee, was desperate to see his old school re-open. As locals became angry, he spent two years working hard to make sure the school – which was started by the Montford Missionaries in 1991 – would open its doors once more.
The West Papuan refugee (he was born in the village of Erecta on the Fly River and was relocated by the PNG government in 1987, receiving permanent residency in 2015) is now proud to say, as of 2023, 141 students have enrolled in the school, with 96 students attending. There are now four teachers on staff, including himself.
“It was very run-down, with empty school buildings – no blackboards, no desks, all past records were gone,” the married father of six boys says of the school in the remote village which closed its doors in 2016.
“The livelihood of the people is very poor,” he explains of the struggle to keep the school open. “The condition of the road from Iowara is also very poor – it is 45 km and takes one to two days walking on the muddy clay road. Some people walk this road carrying packs on their backs to the market in Kiunga in the extreme heat. If they travel by the Public Motor Vehicle (a 12-seater bus) it takes four hours on the bumpy, boggy road. If it rains heavily the bus has to pull off the road and stop.”
Many of the young people from the area who train and qualify as teachers move away from Iowara looking for a better life. Not so for Janu.
After completing Year 12 at Kiunga Secondary School and then working as a volunteer with Sr Maureen Sexton RSM, a Mercy Sister, at the Kiunga Mercy Works office in 2005, Janu decided he wanted to become a teacher. Sr Maureen helped him obtain a government scholarship at Divine Word University, where he graduated with a Diploma of Primary Education.
He taught at two schools on the down Fly River when our Mercy Works Kiunga Project Coordinator, Steven Dude, identified him for the Mercy Works Senior Teachers Academy program. Here he learned how to manage subsidised tuition fees, school funds and banking requirements, which he says has enabled him to become more accountable and competent in the head teacher role. Janu has since returned to West Montford Primary School in Iowara.
While rebuilding the school has been incredibly challenging, re-opening will rebuild some sense of community, he says.
“I’ve gained a lot of self-confidence, and this makes creativity!” he smiles. “Some people were very angry about the last six years…I’m satisfied to see new life return to my old school. It helped me to become the person I am today.”
Building Bridges in PNG
For over 40 years children and adults from Kup village in Simbu, Papua New Guinea, have struggled to cross the mighty waters of the Wahgi River to get to the nearest town of Kundiawa.
One way is to walk on the pot-holed dirt main road for three to four hours to the town of Mingende, then travel on the Public Motor Vehicle (PMV), a 12-seater bus, for 30 minutes to Kundiawa town.
The only fast way is dangerous, yet vital, for the 5,000 people who live in the village of Kup.Currently, the villagers swim across the river’s fast-moving waters or sit on large black rubber tyre tubes and propel themselves across. This takes about 10-15 minutes, and they inevitably get soaked. School teachers make their way to work this way, families get to the markets and to buy supplies and villagers to churches.
Watch the video here:So the locals are taking action themselves and advocating to their local government to build a bridge to make the crossing easier and safer for future generations.
At a local meeting of the villagers in February, they explained to Mercy Works staff, Sr Sally Bradley RSM (Executive Director) and Maria Prescilla (Overseas Program Manager), their hopes to raise a sum of money by June. They will contribute a small part of their Mercy Works Leave No One Behind Village Savings and Loans Association (LNB-VSLA) business activities.
The LNB-VSLA is the initiative of our Project Coordinator in Simbu, Sr Maryanne Kolkia RSM, where villagers are encouraged to form savings and loans group. Here they can save their hard-earned money from selling their products to the markets. The LNB-VSLA provides members access and control over resources and is stimulating economic activities in the community. It is building community capacity, ownership and empowerment.
“The dream is to take a part of the small sum of money they have raised themselves to the local government as a contribution from the people themselves,” says Sr Maryanne.
“Such advocacy would hopefully urge the local government to build a long overdue bridge for the people of Kup village. There will be a risk in taking this initiative, but we believe God will bless our generosity and the government will hopefully hear our long-overdue need. The local people will then cheer ‘wakai’ (which in the local Kuman language means to ‘cheer loudly’) for our success.”
Local priest, Fr Anton Kuman, explained the clan’s local traditional custom of pinning money notes on bamboo poles.
“This is a powerful image for the people,” says Sr Sally fresh from her recent visit to PNG, who admitted she didn’t brave the river on a rubber tube herself! “Some people will also be encouraged to give a small personal financial contribution if they can.”
Fr John Bige, Vicar General of Kundiawa Catholic Diocese, who was also present at the meeting, said their dream is to move forward together and “literally to leave no one behind on the riverbank”.
One of the villagers thanked our Mercy Works team, saying: “Thank you very much – you came along to visit us and see how we are living and how we eat and how we are go to and forth on the might river and we are very appreciative…You come here and you’ve made a big a big difference in our life! God bless!” You can see his ‘thank you video’ here:
“With 2023 being the Year of the Children – we can’t think of better community advocacy for the well-being of future generations,” said Sr Maryanne.
Voice, Treaty and Truth: Why Australia must have an Indigenous Voice to Parliament
Mercy Works proudly supports the “Yes” vote in the upcoming referendum to constitutionally enshrine an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Here is why Australia must have an Indigenous Voice to Parliament:
Last Thursday, our Executive Director Sr Sally Bradley had the “wonderful experience” of attending the Catholic Coalition for Justice and Peace gathering at the McAuley Rooms at the Sisters of Mercy Parramatta Convent in the Parramatta Diocese.
The keynote speaker was Roy Ah-See, a First Nations storyteller, and a proud descendant pf the Wiradjuri Nation. Ah-See is the Co-Chair of the Uluru Dialogue and former Chairman of the NSWALC and Prime Minister’s Advisory Council.
“It was a privilege to listen to Roy,” says Sr Sally who says while the debate will get harder and muddier in the eight months ahead, “Roy urged us all to keep our eye on the Light House leading to the Referendum”.
Ah-See’s is an inspiring and powerful story. He was born in 1967, the year the Australian people voted ‘yes’ at the Referendum to change two sections of the Constitution in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples voting rights.
He was raised on Nanima Reserve near Wellington, New South Wales. In a family of eight children with a single mother, they knew poverty first-hand and were welfare dependent. He became a product of that environment, which lead to antisocial behaviour and alcohol abuse.
At the age 18 Roy was incarcerated and looking at a long custodial sentence. An uncle of Roy’s became his guide and advised him about the need to turn his life around if he wanted to achieve his dreams, aspirations and goals. Roy listened to that advice and went to University as a mature age student and graduated with a degree in Social Welfare. He went on to work at various government agencies and at NSWALC as a Policy Officer.
He has since presented and spoken to audiences as large as 65,000 people and has represented Australia’s First Nation Peoples at the United Nations in both New York and Geneva. Roy is happily married; his son is a podiatrist, and his daughter is a lawyer.
Here are some of the key points which Roy highlighted about the road ahead to achieving an Indigenous Voice to Parliament:
- “It is okay to be angry about the past treatment of First Nations people, but this anger must be turned into advocacy. Together become part of the solution, rather than the problem”.
- The Uluru Statement of the Heart is a 2017 petition by Australian Aboriginal leaders to change the constitution of Australia to improve the representation of Indigenous Australians. It is a generous and inclusive Statement which invites us all to walk together. It offers us all an opportunity to heal country, people and the nation. It was never meant as a political Statement, but rather as a gift to the Australian people.
- The Statement has always asked for Voice, Treaty and Truth in this order. The collective wisdom of the Mob who gathered in Uluru asked for this order. The Voice will inform what Treaty looks like. The Truth-telling piece is called ‘makarrata’. This is a word in the Yolngu language meaning a coming together after a struggle, facing the facts of wrongs and living again in peace. If we include an Indigenous voice in the Constitution, it will not depend on the whim of politicians.
- Roy urged us to have full information before we vote at the Referendum. A recent survey of aboriginal people showed 10% currently say ‘no’, 10% are undecided and 80% say ‘yes’ to an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Roy explained that Indigenous people want “a black voice, not a blue, red or green political voice”! There is already a lot of information available online, for example there were eleven reports written before 2017.
- In aboriginal culture, it is always critical to listen to the “collective wisdom” of the Elders. They cannot be wrong. Many of the Elders were a part of the extensive consultations which happened around the country. They were also present at the landmark gathering at Uluru in 2017.
- For Roy aboriginal spirituality simply means – “when you’re in the river be the river, when you’re at the beach, be the beach and when you’re in the forest, be the forest.”
- When asked about the few loud aboriginal voices who currently say ‘no’, Roy said this is a strategy to create confusion and muddy the waters, and some “have an axe to grind’. He said unfortunately there are also loud negative voices among some politicians and media. They “make a lot of noise and try to stifle debate, to undermine and to discourage”. They “never speak about the four principles of love, kindness, acceptance and love which will heal our country and get rid of oppression”.
- While the debate will get harder and muddier in the eight months ahead, Roy urged us all to “keep our eye on the Light House leading to the Referendum”.
– Sally Bradley RSM
World Radio Day!
Happy World Radio Day, Papua New Guinea!
Today, on World Radio Day, we recognise the power of radio to inform, educate and change lives. It’s a powerful medium that connects people and communities – none more important than the remote regions highlands of PNG where our Sr Maryanne Kolkia (pictured) has been broadcasting nightly sessions for as a long as 14 years with an estimated reach of 500,000 listeners.
In 2021, the studio Sr Maryanne broadcast from in Simbu burnt down due to an electrical fault. She began recording information on USBs to distribute to community leaders and travelling with a loudspeaker to disseminate information across the highlands.
We are thrilled to share that BRAND NEW radio equipment so generously donated by the Noel and Carmel O’Brien Family Foundation in Australia, has arrived and has been installed in the MW office in Mengende PNG and is now operational.
Our Mercy Works Radio programs have now resumed broadcasting this month across the Highlands to over 500,000 people. Pictured here is Sr Maryanne interviewing Mercy Works PNG team staff member, Gabriella Kawage.
Our radio service plays a vital role in raising awareness and disseminating current and correct COVID-19 information, and on a range of other critical educative, health and social issues which impact communities.
Our daily radio program broadcasts across the remote Simbu province in Papua New Guinea, to raise community awareness on the many different topics impacting the lives of local people – from campaigns to end gender-based violence, to people’s civic responsibilities to participate in voting, to COVID awareness, information about many Mercy Works training opportunities and SME activities, and the sharing peoples’ stories of success in these endeavours.
Programs planned for this year include topics such as awareness raising of women’s issues, the rights of the child (International Year of the Child), organic farming skills, UN Sustainable Development Goals, and climate change and global warming. They will also be promoting powerful local stories of change from the people who benefit from MW programs.
Radio is such an essential source of information, especially in rural areas. We are grateful to all the radio stations and journalists who keep us informed and connected! Thank you Noel and Carmel O’Brien Family Foundation for your generosity in making this happen! Your support over the years has seen thousands of remote and vulnerable communities in the provinces of Goroka, Mt Hagen and Simbu benefit through increased access to training, education, healthcare and awareness of local and global issues which impact their wellbeing and future quality of life.
Back to school with Mercy Connect Perth!
Schools are back and that means our Mercy Connect classrooms are back in the swing of things.
We are so grateful to the Mercy Foundation Social Justice Small Grants Program as well as CCI Giving’s Small Grants Program for supporting our Mercy Connect Perth volunteer program which operates in 20 schools across Perth.
CCI Giving builds on a longstanding history of ‘giving back’ to the community, and is inspired by the centuries-old Catholic tradition of compassion in action to support the most marginalised and under-served in our community.
After a disruptive 2022 due to Covid, this funding will ensure that our amazing volunteers are back in-schools supporting refugee and asylum seeker students at some of Perth’s most disadvantaged schools.
Many of these students often feel isolated and anxious, having experienced lengthy periods of dislocation, grief and trauma. Our volunteers assist these students to navigate the many challenges that adjusting to a whole new life presents.
Mercy Connect volunteers engage with students from Kindy right through to year 12 as well as supporting parents and mature-age students through to adult classes, providing them with the opportunity to improve their spoken and written English.
Currently there are 42 volunteers at Mercy Connect Perth assisting more than 200 students in 20 schools, with the numbers continually growing.
“Our volunteers are the backbone of the program,” says our Mercy Connect Perth Coordinator, Kristen Soon.
“They have demonstrated incredible commitment, resilience, flexibility and compassion during the ongoing pandemic, often putting themselves at risk to ensure that our beneficiaries are supported as they struggle with language, socio-cultural and economic challenges at a critical time in their settlement in Australia.”
Pictured here are adults from our literacy classes in Koondoola Parents ESL Class at Koondoola Primary School and our Rawlinson Parents ESL class.
We can’t thank you enough CCI Giving and Mercy Foundation!
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we celebrate the achievements and contributions of women in the field of science. We also recognize the importance of encouraging and supporting girls and women to pursue careers in STEM.
At Mercy Works, we have been very proud of our scholarships in the past which have trained young Papua New Guineans to become Doctors and Nurses and complete their university studies. These would not have been possible without the support of the Julian Zahara Memorial Fund.
Our last recipient, Omngal (pictured here with her son Danny), is expected to compete her Medical Degree in 2024. She is the youngest student of her cohort and comes from the Jiwaka district in the Western Highlands Province.
Omngal’s family manage coffee trees and given the annual fees are around six times more than the average family income to study medicine, it was necessary she seek scholarship to support her studies in her hope of becoming a doctor. Originally a Physio student at Divine World University, her academic scores encouraged her to switch to Medicine.
Our deepest Thank You to everyone at the Julian Zahara Memorial Fund for partnering with Mercy Works over the years with their Access to Education project in helping these students achieve their dreams and enable them to support their families and communities towards self-reliance, dignity, and improved standard of living.
Their continued support of tertiary students in Papua New Guinea, towards completing their Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) studies at the Divine Word University, Madang is promoting a self-sufficient medical sector within vulnerable and remote communities of PNG, by providing life-changing access to healthcare and improving wellbeing.
Let’s break down barriers and create equal opportunities for all!
Photo: Supplied with permission
Mercy Money and People Power
Life for Maria, aged 70, has always been a day-to-day struggle…
When her husband passed away she was left a widow and head of the household with seven small children. She struggled to care for them alone and was unable to pay school fees to educate her children to tertiary level.
Enter Mercy Works and our Simbu Project Coordinator Sr Maryanne Kolkia’s Leave No One Behind Savings and Loans Society (LNBLS). The simple concept invites every individual to be part of the development journey and transition from micro-enterprises (like her 30Kina Project) too Small to Medium Business Enterprises.
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 self, children, family and others.
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.
“The idea is to build up what you get and give back to reach out to others,” says Sr Maryanne, the brains behind the operation. “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.”
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. Which is how Maria first heard of the idea.
“Accessing money before coming to Mercy Works was really difficult for me and my children,” reveals Maria. “My family’s cash flow was limited, there was not enough money available for us to pay for our needs and wants and earning some few kinas from selling garden produce once a while at the local market was not enough. As I am aging, my concern is my children’s well-being.”
Maria joined Sr Maryanne’s LNBLS through buying shares fortnightly. She received personal loans three times and was able to repay them with service charge within three months.
“I was convinced the financial services the Leave No One Behind Savings and Loans Society provides was the only way I could see myself and my struggling children get out of poverty into creating something new for their future,” says Maria.
Maria had three of her children work with her to access the first loan totalling PKG1,020 ($438). “It was indeed a marvellous gift for us to begin,” she smiles. “We collaborated and worked as a team by selling more than a thousand buns a day for PGK1 each as well as 120 cans of soft drink at PGK1.20 each at the main bus stop and repaid all three loans within two weeks.”
The family then applied for a second round of loans, totalling PKG2,250 ($968).
“My whole life with my children has changed. I see smiles on their faces, I feel good about myself and my children’s future. I began to have good sleep in the night, our daily meal has improved, I told them that we will never leave Mercy Works,” says Maria. “Mercy Works theme ‘Leave No One Behind’ speaks for itself.”
Maria says all she has ever wished for is her children to have the same quality of life as other families in the village when she is gone. And through Mercy Works that is now becoming a reality.
“I hope my children can build permanent houses, own PMV (public Motor Vehicle) buses and other businesses. That is my wish.”
An additional income generating activity provided through the Mercy Works Leave No One Behind is our Mushroom Farming Club – which is engaging children and communities and being embraced “with open arms and gratitude,” says Sr Maryanne.
Following three days of mushroom training from a Chinese professor in Goroka, the “Leave No One Behind” mushroom business began with a total seed capital of PGK3,000 ($1,290) for materials and 767 tubers for planting.
After nearly three months of the first planting, money earned reached PGK2,050 ($818) which was used to extend the mushroom house and the remaining funds were spent on 800 more tubers for planting.
“The primary purpose of Mercy Works mushroom farming is not only to improve nutrition but to enhance a fast growing business with children, family and adults. Mercy Mushrooms are growing in popularity,” reports Sr Maryanne. “People can’t stop talking about it!”