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Chair’s Report 2021

KATHLEEN DONNELLON | Chair of the Board

Over the last twelve months, Mercy Works has continued to adapt to rapid change. 

We haven’t been able to visit our programs in Papua New Guinea or Timor Leste, or our new programs in the Philippines.  We have had limited opportunity to visit our Australian programs.  Some, such as Mercy Connect, have gone into hibernation for much of the pandemic, although our volunteers are ready to head back to school whenever the schools are ready to have them. Others, such as our nutrition project for expectant mums in Maucatur, Timor Leste, have continued unabated.  Staff have spent weeks working from home and the board has not had a face-to-face meeting since the pandemic began.

Yet, there have also been blessings.

New projects have begun. In the Baucau district of Timor Leste, we have partnered with Australian Marist Solidarity (AMS) to bring hope and opportunity to children and adults with disabilities.  In the Philippines, our new program partners provide support to very vulnerable women and their children, who have been affected by human trafficking and prostitution.

In Australia, we have commenced new programs in partnership with our First Nations people.  These include supporting local communities to provide an alternative educational model for young Indigenous women (at Cape York Girl Academy, Cairns) as well as strengthening ties for vulnerable women between community and country (The Miewi (Spirit) and Culture Matters Project, Adelaide, SA).  World leaders have recently finished meeting in Glasgow to discuss action to address climate change, and there is considerable irony in Australia being a recalcitrant international player on this front, when we are surrounded by the wisdom and experience of our Indigenous people, in living as one with the land.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused delay in the roll out of our new program in Simbu, in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.  I am very conscious, as I write this, of the extreme pressure that Covid-19 is placing on our Papua New Guinea staff and volunteers, their families, friends and community members.  The current rate of double-dose vaccination in PNG is less than 2%.  Timor Leste is currently at about 35%. Meanwhile, my son, who is a front-line health-care worker in Melbourne, has received his third dose of Pfizer. It’s impossible to understand how this extraordinary inequality can exist between these neighbouring nations.  This avoidable disparity in vaccination coverage is deeply frustrating, especially because for a time there was genuine hope that appropriate assistance would be given to developing nations, to ensure vaccine availability.

This year, Mercy Works staff and directors took time to revisit our Mission, Vision and Values, as part of our strategic planning process.  Our new Vision statement is:

Mercy In Action.  Partnering with the most vulnerable, toward opportunity, dignity and self-reliance.

Catherine McAuley, who founded the Mercy Congregation in Dublin in 1831, gave shelter and nurture to women and children in need at a time when the only alternative for the sick, homeless, poor or otherwise vulnerable, was the workhouse.  She provided them with education and ‘built capacity’, generations before that phrase became jargon for developing a person’s skills and abilities.  Mercy Works seeks to walk in Catherine’s shoes.

On occasion, however, our long term aims need to give way to short term necessity.  This was the case in Papua New Guinea this year.  Our appeal in April for emergency relief for PNG followed a plaintive call for help from Sr Maryanne Kolkia in Simbu, where serious disruptions to the food and water supply chains in remote areas of the Highlands resulted in food shortages. The generosity of you, our supporters and donors, to this appeal was overwhelming.  It resulted in food, water and water tanks being supplied to people throughout the Highlands, and in Kiunga and Wewak.  Sincere thanks must go to the extraordinary team of volunteers on the ground in PNG, who undertook the huge task of rolling out the deliveries to all those people in need.

I am finishing my time as Chair of Mercy Works this year.  There have been significant challenges over my time in the role, not the least of which was being part of an international development organisation during a world-wide pandemic.  There have also been significant structural and organisational changes within Mercy Works, to strengthen our sustainability into the future.  What has not changed, however, is the need for continued support of people who are marginalised and vulnerable, and the extraordinary commitment to the mission of that work, by all the people who work or volunteer for Mercy Works.

Many thanks to the Members of Mercy Works Ltd, who are the four Congregations of the Sisters of Mercy in Australia, namely The Institute of the Sisters of Mercy in Australia and Papua New Guinea (ISMAPNG), The Paramatta Congregation, The Brisbane Congregation and The North Sydney Congregation.

To all of our generous supporters, heartfelt thanks.  This essential work cannot continue without your ongoing generosity.

I would particularly like to thank all the very hard working and committed Board directors and Committee members I have worked with throughout my time at Mercy Works. I have felt proud to work with such a highly skilled, thoughtful and mission focused group.  I do want to offer particular thanks to Travis Bowman and Frank Elvey, as Chairs of the Finance Risk and Audit Committee and the Program Committee respectively.  They are both wise, experienced, and generous men, and I am very grateful to them for their unerring support of the organisation, and of me personally.

Deep thanks also, to the Mercy Works staff and to the many volunteers, all of whom are in their roles because they are moved by Catherine’s call to walk with those in need.  Huge thanks must go to Sally Bradley RSM, for her strong, insightful and energetic leadership.  It has been such a joy and privilege to work closely with Sally.

Finally, I want to wish Mercy Works all the very best as it heads into the future.  I have felt honoured to Chair such a mission-filled ministry.  I know that Joe Zabar, as the new Chair, will bring great, new gifts to the role, and I know that he will be well supported by a highly capable board and Executive Director.

While processes and people will continue to change along the way, what does not change is the Mercy Works mission.  Catherine’s call that ‘The poor need help today, not next week’ continues to resonate at the heart of all we do.  I feel so very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be part of this earthy, people-focused and highly effective organisation, which will remain very close to my heart.

Christmas blessings to you all.


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