Thursday, April 16, 2015

Facing Life

You wake up before dawn in a mud hut. You trek hours for water that you carry on your head. You cut and haul firewood. You build the fire. You pound the maize. You cook for the family. You care for children and share with your neighbors. You dig (farm). If the rains come at the right time, you harvest. You bind thatch to build your house. You are treated by most men as "worth less than a cow." Yet you don't give up. You pray that the civil war will end some day. You dream about better things for your children. And all the while, you face life with a SMILE.

You, the strong women of South Sudan, amaze and inspire me!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Where there's a wheel..."

Photo by Elisa Divoux

Yes, it must be true: "Where there's a wheel, there's a way."  (Who said that, anyway?) Surely we see evidence of it in rural Haiti, where folks fashion useful items out of bits and pieces left over from somewhere else, and where disabled persons fend creatively for themselves with determined ingenuity. Hats off to those who find a way even when life seems stacked against them.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Caribbean Beauty

Most descriptions of Haiti emphasize its poverty and the devastation that has resulted from its various natural disasters. Lesser known is the stunning beauty to be found in Haiti. Think Caribbean Sea. Think palm trees and white beaches. Think juicy mangoes and mouth-watering pork griot. Think friendly people. Lively culture. Vibrant art. Steel-drum music. Think beauty!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

(Not Mr.) Moto, Anyone?

The most common mode of transportation in mountainous northern Haiti, aside from walking, is to hail a “moto.” Anyone needing a quick way to get somewhere simply flags down a passing motorcycle, hops on, and then holds on for the wild and bumpy ride along gravel trails, skidding up and down steep hillsides (“Hang on to your hat!”), dodging startled goats and the children who inevitably call out: “Blanc! Blanc!”, splashing across streams (“You don’t mind getting wet, do you?”), slipping through narrow gorges (“Watch out for the cactus on your right!”).  Trust me, it's more exciting than the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland—and all for a few gourdes (pennies).  Try it some time!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Starting Out on the Wrong Foot?

Photo by Elisa Divoux
Well, every day can't start out right... but let's hope this person's day in Haiti got better after the sun came up!  Then again, when shoes are ill-fitting hand-me-downs, maybe left and right don't matter too much. And anyway, the color makes a splendid fashion statement.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Don't Leave Home Without It

Given all the travel that fills my calendar, it was bound to happen one day:  yes, I left home last week bound for Haiti. My passport, however, stayed home, snug in my purse on the chair in our living room, exactly where I left it when I grabbed the keys and strode out the door.  20 miles later, I realized my mistake and hurriedly backtracked to retrieve purse, passport, money, etc.  I made my flight—just barely—but my luggage apparently decided to linger at SFO. So, I had to wait around in Port-au-Prince another day (two, actually) to be reunited.  This turned out to be a pleasant interlude, giving me a chance to catch up with some good friends, but alas, it shortened my visit with the MBB staff and scholars in Gros Morne (which is 4 hours by vehicle to the north of PaP).  

Thursday, March 5, 2015

"I know I'm in Jail, but...."

There’s an old country-western song with the refrain, “I know I’m in jail, but what town is this?” There are days when I feel a bit like that (well, not the jail part, but definitely the where-in-the-world-am-I-today part). 

If I am hearing a Pentecostal preacher singing his heart out at 3:00a.m accompanied by roosters and braying donkeys, I must be in Gros Morne, Haiti. 

If I’m in a round mud hut with thatched roof, it’s definitely Narus, S.Sudan.  

If I’m wakened by a full-throated chorus of huge bullfrogs, it’s the rainy season in Rumbek, and they've invaded my shower room.  

If the pre-dawn call to prayer issues from a loudspeaker atop a minaret, I’m in Juba.  

And if it’s the roar of CalTrain rumbling along the railway tracks, I know I’m home sweet home in the Bay Area.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sweep Stakes

No teenagers enjoy doing chores. But when you get a group to do some volunteer work together as a team--like these MBB Scholars cleaning up the local church grounds in Gros Morne, Haiti-- suddenly it can seem like fun.

All MBB Scholars commit to doing monthly volunteer work to improve their communities is some way.  It's their way of "paying it forward" for having received an MBB Scholarship.

Not surprisingly, in places of extreme poverty like Haiti and South Sudan, volunteering is not yet a widespread practice. People are too busy just trying to stay alive and make ends meet.  MBB, however, sees volunteering as an integral component of leadership and so we require it of our Scholars. We like to make it enjoyable, too!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

How do you get from Mapuordit to Atiaba ???

How do you get from one place to another in South Sudan? Carefully. Very carefully!  Don't even think of trying it during the rainy months; but even when the heavy rains have subsided, those innocent, shallow-looking streams will swamp a Land Cruiser faster than you can say, "Get me out of here!"

Here the vehicle founders and sinks as water swirls around it, nearly up to the driver's window. Amazingly, the engine did not roll over and die. Once the car was winched onto drier land (after several hours of mulling over the situation in the heat of the day), MBB staff were able to proceed to their destination.  Such are the joys of traveling in rural S.Sudan!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

In the Lap(top) of Luxury

Jasmin, wearing glasses, fits right in with the Scholars
During the months of February and March, Mercy Beyond Borders is blessed to have Jasmin Alic volunteer-ing in Gros Morne, Haiti. A former refugee from Bosnia and an experienced teacher, Jasmin is putting his time and talents to use in repairing and updating our computer lab laptops, in mentoring Willine, our Haitian computer instructor, and in taking photos/videos of our Scholars and activities while helping Elisa, the MBB Country Director, as needed.

Sr Marilyn will see him in action when she visits Gros Morne next week.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

What in the world is H & R???

H & R... Hmmm, is it a British clothing store?  A new medical procedure?  An indie rock band? A California start-up?  None of the above. In South Sudan, H & R means only one thing: Hope and Resurrection Secondary School, a secure place where girls can board and study. 

H & R, located in Atiaba, is one of MBB's 2 new partnering schools in South Sudan (the other is Mazzolari Memorial HS in Rumbek).  H & R was founded by an American couple, is led by a S.Sudanese Headmaster, and is staffed by well-trained Ugandan teachers. In the photo, three of Mercy Beyond Borders' ten female H & R Scholars proudly hold their most recent academic report cards. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What's the most widespread disability in the world?

Think about that for a minute... The answer may surprise you: the most widespread disability on the planet, by far, is VISION IMPAIRMENT.  3/4 of all Americans use some form of corrective lenses, but if you travel overseas to undeveloped places you rarely see anyone wearing glasses... Why? These populations have little or no access to vision screening, and no money to purchase what they need.  None of the hundreds of girls MBB works with in Haiti and South Sudan wear glasses; surely they will have a better chance of academic success when they actually see the blackboard or read without eyestrain.

Mercy Beyond Borders is partnering with Lions In Sight of California, a nonprofit project of Lions Club International.  Together we will bring a group of optometrists and opticians to screen the vision of 1,000 children in the town of Gros Morne, Haiti, during April and to provide free eyeglasses to those who could benefit.  We can hardly wait to SEE the results!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

What's In a Name?

Morning Musa, Sunday Akongo, Stella Night. Susan Ikanga. Vionzy Keji. The MBB Scholars in South Sudan are beautiful young women whose names roll off the tongue like poetry. But many names also tell stories revealing the hardships surrounding their birth: 

“I am called Forest because I was born while my mother was running, fleeing the war, and so I came into this world in the thick forest where she was hiding.” 

“I am called “Abandoned” because my family abandoned my mother, since the children she birthed previously had died. When I was born no one wanted to come near to help her. Finally, an old woman befriended us and took us into her hut for six months until we were strong….”

“My name means “Substitute” because I was born after my two older siblings died in childbirth…”

My parents named me “Unlucky.”  I think my parents chose this name because it was a time of conflict and hunger and so I was one more child to feed.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Being Scanned for Ebola

By the time our plane landed at Nairobi’s international airport I was feeling somewhat groggy from 28 hours of travel. Along with the other passengers I shuffled down the stairs from the plane and onto the bus that delivered us to the airport Arrivals Hall. Before reaching the immigration visa processing stations we were told to form a single line (or "queue" as they say in Kenya) and to step up, one by one, to face a small camera-like device mounted from the ceiling.  It emitted a brief burst of light onto the forehead of each of us.  I deduced that we were having our temperature taken by some sort of laser. In fact, we were being screened for EBOLA. A sad reminder of the suffering of our neighbors in West Africa….

Kenyan military guard Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi where a fire destroyed one terminal last year.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Simon Says...

What if you had never played as a child?  What if you were 18 or 20 when first introduced to “Simon Says”?  The appeal of such a simple game must be universal; certainly it rouses our Scholars.  They erupt in laughter while playing it for a few minutes each morning during our Ldrshp Workshops in Narus and Kakuma, vying to be the winner.… Surrounded as they are by violence and family pressures to drop school and marry early, this brief respite of play is just what the doctor ordered.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Guns? or Books?

How long will it be before books replace guns in the hands of South Sudanese?  Barely 3 years old as a nation, South Sudan has regressed into civil war pitting the elected government against a strong rebel movement. The fighting, of course, is about oil and power and control of land.  But the suffering falls on the common people. 1.5 million of them are now displaced.  "When elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled."  Mercy Beyond Borders continues its work of educating women and girls, firm in the conviction that it lays a groundwork for peace in the future. May 2015 bring the gift of PEACE for all!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Blessings!

I write from Narus, South Sudan, where Christmas means plenty of drumming and dancing, but never snow or tinsel... What does Christmas bring for the girl pictured here at St Bakhita Primary School? A break from studies, yes, and probably a trip back to her home village--which always means a mixture of joy and dread: JOY at seeing her family, but DREAD at the possibility of being married off by her parents or uncles, thus losing the chance to return to school, to develop her gifts, and to pursue the career she dreams about.  This Christmas, please remember your sisters and mothers and daughters in places like South Sudan.  We are all kin!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Heading Back to South Sudan

It's that time of year again: MBB is hosting its annual Leadership Training workshops in South Sudan. That means I hop on marathon flights today from San Francisco to Seattle to Amsterdam to Nairobi, then sleep a few hours before boarding another flight up to Lodwar, still in Kenya, then hop into a rented "taxi" for a 6 hr drive through the desert to Lokichokkio (affectionately dubbed "Loki"), where we will meet up with the vehicle cum driver from St Bakhita School who will ferry us the final 3 hours across the border to the first training site in South Sudan.  Banditry along these roads has increased ominously over the past few weeks. Pray that all the workshop participants and staff, including me, can arrive unscathed.

Wilson airport in Nairobi from which I will fly to Lodwar:

Each year I am heartened by the maturity of the Scholars. We'll be having fun together while also learning new material on female growth and development, adding to our computer skills, and exploring the values which are the hallmarks of every MBB Scholar: personal integrity, academic excellence, and compassionate action.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Light Work

A Scholar in Haiti checks out her new solar lamp. MBB provides a lamp to every young woman accepted into our Scholarship program.  Most use them to study at night, after all the household chores are finished. Some use them long before dawn, waking early to do their homework before walking to school.  Either way, the light helps them to keep up academically.  Light works!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Slippin' and Slidin'

Mud-slinging isn't just for politicians. In S.Sudan during the rainy season it's for everyone who attempts to take a vehicle onto the roads... Twice last month, our Micro-Enterprise coordinator ended up mired in mud when trying to get from one village to another to visit our women's groups. Of course, there is no AAA or cavalry to the rescue. You just look for stones to wedge beneath the tires, and you wait... and wait... and wait for another car with a winch and a good-hearted driver to help out.  Emmanuel waited 8 hours in the muck on this particular trek--plenty of down time to snap photos!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Little Slip on a Girl

What does it take to look like a beauty queen in South Sudan?  Just a pillowslip with armholes and spaghetti straps!

Mercy Beyond Borders thanks volunteers Virginia Fisher in Oregon and Sr. Lillian Connolly (along with her sewing circle) in Iowa who have combined their talent and pillowcases over the past year to send several hundred colorful, creative, climate-appropriate dresses to the pre-schoolers at St. Bakhita Girls Primary School in South Sudan.  Wish you could see the girls dancing in their new "gowns." There's nothing like a pretty dress to make a girl feel special!

All the girls at St Bakhita Primary join MBB in wishing you a wonderful THANKSGIVING!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Is She Rich?

She's putting 1,000 Uganda Shillings into the till in her small roadside shop in Nimule, South Sudan. Is she rich?  Not quite: that bill in her hand is worth only 37 cents.  You'd need 3,000 Uganda Shillings to top $1 USD.  Though she may not be rich, she's happy because, after decades of war and destitution, she is finally on her way up from extreme poverty.  Having received business training and a small loan through the Women's Micro-Enterprise program operated by Mercy Beyond Borders, she expanded her roadside kiosk and doubled her monthly income. Now she can eat every day.  Buy medicine when her children are sick. Sleep better at night. These are big changes in her life. She's on her way up!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Haitian Beauty

Many people focus on what Haiti doesn't have, such as a robust economy, education for all, or enough jobs... Mercy Beyond Borders, on the other hand, focuses on what Haiti DOES have: beautiful people, eager learners, and a vibrant culture. Even in the most modest of houses in the mountains, you will find great care taken with color and decor and you'll be welcomed with an abundance of hospitality.

Early explorers called Haiti "the pearl of the Antilles." Once you meet Haiti's women and girls, you understand why. Here's Michenata, one of MBB's 104 high school scholarship recipients, smiling from the window of her family home.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Serving Raspberry Pi?

Neither a fruit dessert nor an irrational number, RASPBERRY PI is an ingeniously compact, remarkably powerful computer that fits in the palm of a hand. When augmented by a memory chip filled with instructional lessons and paired with a laptop server, the device becomes an instant library with its own built-in  local area network that makes the content available to all the laptops in the room.

They're perfect for our MBB Scholar computer labs in South Sudan and Haiti, where internet connections are still just a dream. Once the Raspberry Pi devices are configured, MBB staff will bring them to the sites where our Scholars are clustered, so that the students can access everything from A to Z--algebra lessons to zoology.  What a boon for schools that lack books or libraries!
We thank MBB Board member, Garick Chan, for moving this project forward!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Memento Mori

Photo by Elisa Divoux at a Haitian cemetery 2014

Memento Mori:  Remember Death.  In much of the West, where cultures obsess about youth, we go out of our way to skirt the topic of death. Not so in Haiti, where the deceased are still very much involved in the affairs of the living.  Voodoo practices engage the dead for blessings or curses. Cemeteries serve as meeting places for religious rituals. Such prayers evoke celebration as often as fear, in the awareness that generations living and dead remain linked.  In the words of a Haitian proverb: "When we dance, it is not only the living who are present." Think about that tomorrow night on Halloween, the eve of All Saints.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Paving the Way to Gros Morne

In many parts of Haiti, especially along the main south-north road, gravel is giving way to beautifully paved streets.  The transformation is nearly complete in downtown Gros Morne, where Mercy Beyond Borders works in Haiti,  Already, the sidewalks are finished on one side. Week by week, workers make progress on the street itself. Utility poles promise electricity soon. Lamp posts are now appearing here and there, always with a cluster of students beneath each one, studying into the night.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Rainy Season Blessing and Curse

Rain in Haiti refreshes everything, sluicing away the dust from trees and trucks, making already-vibrant colors positively shimmer, and providing water for parched farms. Rain brings blessings.

Rain in Haiti also brings trouble. Rain breeds mosquitoes and causes serious erosion. Mountain streams swell to torrents that spread water-borne cholera,erode the topsoil, and make it risky for students to ford rivers on their way to school.

Intrepid MBB staffer Darline leans into a swift-flowing current when heading up into the mountains to visit the family of an MBB Scholar.

Photos by Elisa Divoux, MBB Country Coordinator in Haiti

Thursday, October 9, 2014

So Much More than an Exam

Photo at St Bakhita School by MBB's IT Specialist, Achemi Bakhita Adam 
Exams in South Sudan are so much more than academic measures. If you are a girl in S.Sudan, your very life may depend on the marks you score.

A low score means you cannot remain in school.  Not remaining in school means early marriage (most likely to an elderly man who can give your parents plenty of cows as a dowry). Early marriage means pregnancy and childbirth before your body is ready.  That means you stand a good chance of becoming a lifeless (literally) statistic: 1 in every 7 pregnancies in S.Sudan ends in the death of the mother before or during childbirth.

Your support of Mercy Beyond Borders helps girls stay in school and do well in their exams!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

What's Round and Black and Flat All Over?

The creaky yellow school bus had seen better days; but the price was right, so 30 MBB Scholars and 6 staff, myself included, piled aboard on a recent Monday morning in Gros Morne, heading south to the Haitian coastal town of Arcahaie.  We expected a 3-hr ride to the conference center where we would enjoy a Leadership Training week together.

Every 20 minutes or so, the driver pulled to the side of the road, opened the hood, and poured water into the radiator. About halfway down the mountain, we heard ominous thumps. We thought luggage had fallen off the roof, but no, a tire had blown, spewing heavy strips of black rubber behind us. The driver inched the old bus forward for the next hour to a town that had an auto mechanic. We all stood in the noonday heat until the tire was replaced. C’est la vie. There is no hurry in Haiti.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Death and Life in Haiti

Invite an American high school freshman to write an essay on something memorable she has experienced, and you’re likely to hear about the first rock concert she attended or her recent vacation to Yellowstone.

Invite a Haitian girl to do the same and steel yourself to read about the early deaths of her parents, the disappearance of her brother during the 2010 Port-au-Prince earthquake (body never found); the motorcycle accident in the mountains that permanently scarred her arm. But these memories are balanced by joyful moments, too: astonishment at seeing the ocean for the first time while attending the MBB Leadership Training, or the excitement she could not contain on the day she was awarded an MBB Scholarship—so much so that she burst into tears, starting jumping around the house, and could not find words to explain to her neighbors her good fortune.

Death is never far away in Haiti, but that makes life each day all the more precious.  

MBB Scholars rejoice at the 2014 Leadership Training.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pesky Little Thing

All it takes is one.  One tiny, whiny, dive-bombing mosquito aiming for my ear in the dead of night.  An insect so miniscule that its mass barely registers as there at all can reduce my 120 lbs to a sleepless, irritable mockery of my usual self. 

I thrash about in the dark (as if that’s going to scare it away). I try wrapping myself in the sheet (good for approximately 10 seconds, until death by malaria, dengue fever or chikungunya seems preferable to death by stifling heat). 

I extricate myself from the mosquito net, grab my flashlight, and search for holes. Aha! a tiny rip! It might as well sport a neon sign: ENTER HERE, All Ye Who Come to Suck Blood!  I scrunch the netting around the hole, pull it into a cord and tie off the hole with a satisfied flourish. Done.  

I tuck the netting back under the mattress with great care and collapse back onto the bed, only to hear that same maddening buzz. I realize that I have sealed the mosquito inside with me. Aaargh. We begin again, Goliath v. David.  It promises to be a long night here in Haiti.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Anniversary at the Beach

48 yrs ago I entered the convent. (OK. Do the math. I entered before I was born. Ha!)  On that day back in 1966, I felt that I was giving up everything in order to surrender my life to God. What a surprise to discover, over and over, that I had it entirely backwards: abundant blessings are coming my way every day. Proof enough: here I am, nearly five decades later, on a Caribbean beach, smelling the fresh salty air, enjoying the warm breeze, watching small fishing boats ply the waters.  It’s as if God pulled this scene from the magician’s hat: “Voila! A little something for your anniversary, Marilyn.” 

You may be wondering what I am doing on a Caribbean beach… Actually I am in Haiti, participating in the annual MBB Leadership Training with 30 of our best Scholars.  We’re working, but playing, too. Above all, we are busy giving thanks simply for being here….

Friday, September 5, 2014

"Don't look if you're squeamish!"

These are the moments that age me.

The night started out as any other Haiti night: humid and pleasantly warm. Heavy rain drummed on the roof and porch of the lovely old house where I stay in Gros Morne. I had just emerged from the toilet cubicle and, without bothering to turn on the light, walked through the dark corridor to my bedroom. Another volunteer then walked into the same corridor, flipped on the light switch, and lurched backwards, yelling, “Tarantula!”  Screams echoed off the walls.

There it was: a hunched, angular mass with impossibly hairy legs scuttling along the tile floor – exactly where I’d been walking a few seconds earlier. The monster was larger than my hand and considerably scarier. Our panicky shouts brought cavalry to the rescue. Hardier residents thwacked the dense black intruder with brooms and doused it with chemical spray.  I cowered at a safe distance, afraid to look directly at the battle, but more afraid of not knowing which way the besieged tarantula might run.
Suddenly there was silence. Dust hung in the heavy air. The bravest among us scooped the corpse into a dustpan and tossed it into the garden but my drama wasn't over quite yet. Somewhere I’d read that tarantulas travel in pairs. Who knows if it’s true? Perhaps it’s an urban legend but just to be sure I spent several tense hours perched on the side of my bed, eyes scanning the floor til long past midnight... 

Yes, such are the moments that age me. (I warned you not to look.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Laughing Her Head Off

As you read this, the top 30 MBB Scholars in Haiti are participating in the annual MBB Scholars' Leadership Week at a beachfront conference center.  Though Haiti is a small island, some of them have never before been to the coast.  The Scholar in orange enjoys the ice-breakers so much that she literally appears to be laughing her head off.

Besides having fun together away from stresses of home and school, these promising young women are exploring what it means to be an MBB Scholar and how they will, in their daily lives, be true to the Scholarship Program's 3 core values: personal integrity, academic excellence, and compassionate action.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Down and Dirty in S.Sudan

Does this look like a brand new vehicle to you? Well, it is!  But a few weeks on the roads--I use the term loosely--in South Sudan can take a serious toll on man and machine.

Pictured here is our intrepid MBB Country Coordinator, Bro Emmanuel, on his way to visit the remote villages where he supervises our women's micro-enterprise groups.

The photo below shows how much fun it can be to travel in the rainy season. Mud isn't the worst of it, though. Ambushes by bandits on one mountainous stretch of road between two of our program sites have claimed 15 lives in the past few months. Getting to and from the various MBB program sites is literally the most difficult and dangerous part of our work in South Sudan....

Thursday, August 14, 2014

An Important Moment for Hope

You've gotta love the spirit of the Haitian people!  Here is a mortuary in the town of Gros Morne (where MBB operates its Scholarships Program for girls). It's called "The Optimist Funeral Home." Feeling kinda dead? Not in the pink? Wondering if you've got your priorities straight?  This just might be the place that sparks adjustments in your attitude toward life...  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Smoke but No Mirrors

It's a common sight in the villages of South Sudan: women as well as men (and young boys) puffing on home-made pipes. Some of the pipes are plain, functional; others are carved and quite intricate. Either way, they deliver the buzz of nicotine to people who seek the temporary easing of hunger pangs, sadness, or the countless other burdens that accompany a life of extreme poverty.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Weighing In

Not a fancy digital scale, but it works. (And there's no need to take your shoes off when you're not wearing any!) Here an MBB graduate and now Auxiliary Nurse at Kuron Medical Center in a remote corner of South Sudan carefully measures an infant's weight in kilos, one way to track healthy growth. Underweight, malnourished children get special attention.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fashion Comes Out A-Head

This young girl in South Sudan makes a fashion statement with her beads and braids. She's an eye-popping beauty!  Even those who live in extreme poverty somehow make themselves look GOOD. Amazing.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Rain Rain Go Away

I write this from California, a state perennially parched and desperate for rain.  Not so in South Sudan, where water pours from the skies at least 6 or 7 months of the year. Great for crops and thirsty cattle. Not so great for traveling by car.  If you look closely at the far upper left corner of the above pix, you will see the African equivalent of a AAA tow-truck: a farm tractor to winch hopelessly stuck vehicles and drag them to higher ground.  More than once, MBB staff and Scholars have had to spend the night sitting in such a swamp, waiting to be rescued. The mosquitoes enjoyed it more than they did!

Thursday, July 10, 2014


In some regions of the world, folk traditions portray storks as deliverers-of-babies. Whether flying the new arrival into Mom's house on a beak-slung diaper sling, or dropping it carefully down a chimney, storks play their whimsical role from country to country.  In South Sudan, the storks look large enough to deliver full-grown adults!
Pictured here is a saddle-billed stork, all decked out and ready for duty. The photo was snapped in E. Africa by Kathleen Connolly, RSM, an avid birder.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Too Many Legs to Stand On

Those of you who know me or have read my book are aware of my deep-seated fear of spiders.  Each morning while in South Sudan, I meticulously scan my clothing with a flashlight and shake each item vigorously to dislodge any creepy-crawlies. During the day I watch where I step. I examine smudges on the walls of the outhouse to make sure they do not have 8 legs. At night I worry that every shadow has legs.  I especially fear the spiders that hop (they love the outhouse, by the way). How can I defend against that? The locals laugh at me, but I don’t care.  They say I should instead worry about scorpions and snakes and centipedes and even certain thorn bushes (all very poisonous, some quite deadly). 

One night I heard loud thwacking in the kitchen adjacent to the room where we were eating dinner: “Thump! Thump! Thrrrump!” This continued for several minutes, accompanied by muttered grunts.  The cook had discovered a centipede, about 8 inches in length and apparently venomous, and was dutifully dispatching it to the afterlife.  I later viewed the corpse with curiosity but did not share the horror exhibited by the cook. THAT, I reserve for spiders!

Before its demise it looked something like this (a picture which I found later on the web).  And no, that is definitely not MY foot!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bruce, the Bat in my Tukul

Enjoy this excerpt from a FaceBook post by Valki , one of three wonderful American volunteers spending their summer vacation teaching at St Bakhita Girls' Primary School in Narus, South Sudan:

Valki in Haiti with an MBB Scholar (no pix yet from S.Sudan)

“Love my little tukul (hut). It’s round with teal door and teal windows. The walls are brick, concrete and the roof is thatched. I sleep under a mosquito net… The girls are sweet and full of song…. They come from many tribes. The Toposa have nose piercings (not allowed in their classes) and they giggle at the fact that I also have one. I tell them I am also Toposa because of this and they cheer loudly!
 “So far I am known as the one who attracts animals and bugs of all sorts, including a bat, Bruce, who hung out on my tukul for some time. I tried to feed him a raisin, but it seems he is not a fruit bat : )  In this first week I have two spider bites, a cat scratch, and a sizable ant managed to get trapped in my bra (and defend himself).  It is 9:25 pm now and—no joke—I opened my door because of a noise…and now I have a toad in my tukul. I think it is the very one that I caught yesterday.  Ha ha!"

Stay tuned for further installments of "The Adventures of MBB Summer Volunteers."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Pharell Williams, Eat Your Heart Out

Pharrell Williams may think he has a corner on what HAPPY looks like. But he hasn't been to Narus, South Sudan. He hasn't seen the faces of these exuberant young girls rejoicing at the arrival of the new Land Cruiser that Mercy Beyond Borders brought to St Bakhita Primary School this month!


(I think there is a car in there somewhere...)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

How's Your Creole?

With a bit of French vocabulary and a flair for sounding things out phonetically, you can decipher this public health billboard in Gros Morne, Haiti.  Oh, and it helps if you like rebus puzzles.

"Hygiene and Sanitation are the best protection against cholera."

Cholera did not exist in Haiti until after the 2010 quake. Epidemiologists have traced the start and subsequent deadly spread of the disease to one of the UN peacekeeping contingents sent to help the country recover from the quake. Thousands of Haitians have since died for lack of adequate prevention and access to health care.

As of May 2014 a cholera epidemic has also erupted in Juba, the capital city of South Sudan. Over 170 have already perished. Again, its epicenter was a UN camp.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Long Way Home

When you travel in the mountains of northern Haiti, you will see people walking, walking, walking up and down the steep paths. Usually they carry heavy bundles on their heads. This woman has been down in the ravine to wash clothes in the river.  It's a long way down, hard work once you get where you're going, and then a long way home.  I think of this woman every time I pop my laundry into the washing machine at my place. I no longer take such luxury for granted.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Her Tattoos are WHERE???

It's a relatively recent craze for EVERYONE these days--not just athletes and entertainers--to sport a few classy tattoos.  The Toposa people of South Sudan, however, have a long head start over the rest of us. They have been wearing visual art for centuries. Forget tattoo parlors: their markings are inscribed with the sharp tip of a thorn, and then rubbed with ash to create a raised bas-relief effect.  Check out the artwork on this young woman in Narus, South Sudan!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Tiny Diplomat

Meet "John Kerry," born in Gros Morne, Haiti, last month and now perhaps the world's tiniest diplomat.  We met him at Alma Mater Hospital outside of the ward where his mother was being treated for malaria.  Proud Auntie was pleased to introduce Mr, Kerry to the visiting team from Mercy Beyond Borders!  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Saints alive!

Students who become MBB Scholars are permitted to select which high school they will attend (there are 4 in the town of Gros Morne). 70 of MBB's 84 Scholars in Haiti have chosen to attend Jean 23rd Catholic high school, perhaps because it is considered to be the premier school in the area or because most of the population is Catholic.  Here the Scholars are pictured with volunteer Elisa Divoux just a few days after the school's namesake was officially declared a saint by the Vatican.