Saturday, December 26, 2009

Close to the earth. Close to one another.

The strong, dusty feet of women in Sudan remind me of how close to the earth these women live.  They have no closets full of shoes; in fact, they have neither closets nor shoes!

There is much that we in the West, nicely shod in our Nikes and Easy Spirits and Birkenstocks, no longer feel.  The sharpness of parched, cracked clay earth.  The intense heat that rocks hold from sun. The slip of dew on morning grass. The welcome squish of mud between toes when the rains finally come. The rhythmic thudding of bare feet packing down the soil when women gather to dance. The cool water that drips 'round the bore hole before dawn after it has been hand-pumped to the surface to fill a jerry-can.  The scratch of thorns and branches in the bush while walking, yes, walking hours and hours and hours to haul water or collect firewood or lead goats to pasture or visit a friend in a distant village.

Not feeling those simple things, we are perhaps also impaired in feeling our connectedness with these women in ways that matter even more.  Knowing that these are truly our sisters and mothers and daughters.  Choosing to share our resources with them. Realizing that our kinship can be a source of joy for us all.  This is what Mercy Beyond Borders is all about--helping us partner, spreading the joy.  THANK YOU for being a part of this wonderful work in 2009.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A child is born!

In less than 2 weeks, Christians around the world will celebrate the feast of Christmas, a reminder that God is always coming into our lives in quiet, surprising ways--as humble as the birth of a child, as surprising as the miracle of surviving great adversity.

For women in Southern Sudan , the very act of giving birth is fraught with danger. Those lucky enough to get to a medical clinic (by walking long distances) may find it lacks staff or medicines.  The woman pictured here had walked several days to reach the clinic at Kuron Peace Village. She birthed her child on a dirt floor with nothing stronger than Tylenol but in the company of caring friends.  A few hours later, she was up and walking back to her home village with her newborn!

So we reflect on the mystery and gift of life during this Holy Season, and we rejoice that Mercy Beyond Borders connects us all.  In this time of year, the three great Abrahamic faith traditions celebrate Eid, Hannukah and Christmas. Setting aside whatever divides us, let us this year together remember our blessings and thank God for the immense privilege of sharing our resources with women and girls in Sudan.

Blessings abound!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Stirring the Pot

If you are a woman, be glad you were not born in South Sudan, where your lot in life would be one continuous uphill struggle to stay alive and provide for your family. In fact, if you are female in Sudan, your chances of dying in childbirth are much greater than your chances of ever attending a school. Mercy Beyond Borders is working to change that dismal statistic because, of course, it is not statistics we are talking about but real human beings with the same dreams and desires as you and I.

Sr Kathleen has been teaching health and hygiene workshops to Toposa women in the villages. The big "draw" (aside from Kathleen's sparkling personality and fine teaching techniques!) is the fact that Kathleen brings with her sacks of sorghum flour and heads of cabbage. As you can see in the above photo, at the end of the workshop the women cook the flour into "ugali" porridge to enjoy with stewed cabbage beneath the shade trees. For these village women this is a marvelous feast, made all the more wonderful and welcome because the rains have not come and there is much hunger at this time of year. The women express their gratitude by singing and dancing spontaneously.

As we in the U.S. approach our national holiday of Thanksgiving, let us be grateful for the abundant blessings we have--and eager to share our resources with our sisters and mothers and daughters in Sudan.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Wonderful Volunteers

The work of Mercy Beyond Borders depends on all of YOU, the people who support our efforts with your time, talents, connections and donations. I am so impressed by your creativity and commitment--I only wish there were a way for me to profile EACH of you individually! 

Mercy Beyond Borders relies on its wonderful volunteers across the United States.  You have collected pledges for running a marathon, organized a pennies competition at your primary school, set up monthly contributions via the PayPal button on our website, hosted dinners and brunches at your homes and donated the money that would have been spent at restaurants, designed original jewelry to sell and then given all the proceeds to MBB, invited friends and family to honor your birthday or jubilee or anniversary by donating to MBB instead of giving you a gift, convinced your local parish or Rotary Club or book group to fund MBB, studied about Sudan at your high school or college and raised thousands of dollars for your displaced sisters and mothers and daughters in Sudan.  The result?  MBB is able to channel more and more funding into its projects on the ground in Southern Sudan. 

We also have several brave volunteers who travel into S. Sudan with their expertise.  One is pictured here with a Sudanese health worker: Shirley Tamoria, MD, a medical doctor and member of the MBB Board.

As the intermediary for all this energy and kindness and generosity, I am the one privileged to say, "THANK YOU as I stand amazed and grateful for all that you are doing for women and girls in Southern Sudan!"

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Why is she smiling?

If you read the news, you'd think that there isn't much to smile about in Southern Sudan these days.  It's true that there has been a resurgence of violence, and that during 2009 there have been more people killed in Southern Sudan than in Darfur....  It's true that the rains failed again this year, such that each passing month spreads the scourge of hunger...  It's true that two of the faculty at St Bakhita School in Narus fell ill in September: Sister Agnes was hospitalized with severe malaria, and Sister Kathleen was bitten by a scorpion in her tukul.

Despite all the hardship, this young girl is smiling.  Why?  Because she is lucky enough to be a student at St Bakhita School.  Because she's learning and growing, and receiving two meals each day from the school.  And because she has just learned about Mercy Beyond Borders' new scholarship program for girls graduating from 8th grade!  MBB will provide full scholarships for secondary school to the top academic achiever each year and also to the girl who has displayed the best leadership and service at the school.  MBB scholarships motivate the girls to study well, and enable the best and brightest to continue their education through college.  It is one concrete was to ease the severe "education gap" that exists in the country, where fewer than 10% of girls have any formal schooling.

Check out our website next month ( for details on how you can particpate in the MBB scholarship program in Sudan.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Skyscraper, Sudanese style

I have a distinct memory of browsing through a copy of National Geographic when I was about 9 years old and being riveted by a photo of a termite mound in Brazil that appeared to be taller than the buildings in the new capital city, Brasilia, then under construction. The photo made a serious impression on me. I studied and studied that picture, convincing myself in the end that it must have been the clever angle of the photographer that made the work of mere termites look mightier than the work of construction crews with bulldozers, carving their new city out of the jungle.

Since traveling and working in Sudan, I now realize that my childhood conclusion was wrong--frightfully wrong. Indeed, termites do create mounds that rise 15 or 20 feet in the air, vertical dung heaps more imposing and in some ways more solid than their surroundings. Nothing stands in their way. Terminix wouldn't stand a chance! The termites go about their work, unseen and unhurried but unstoppable.

My colleague and friend, Sister Maureen Limer, told me that she once returned to her mud and thatch hut in Sudan after having been away for a week. The painted wooden posts that framed the doorway looked somehow different, so she put her hand onto the frame to take a closer look. The paint was still there, a thin layer of color in the shape of the doorframe, but it encased only air. The wooden branches beneath had been entirely eaten away. When she touched the paint, it crumbled to dust. What could she do but laugh?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Good Morning!

When I flip on the stovetop burner in my California kitchen each morning to boil water and then --just a few short minutes later--enjoy a fresh cup of coffee, I marvel at what I do NOT have to do to begin my day.

I do NOT leave home long before dawn. I do NOT walk several hours in the predawn darkness to find and cut firewood. I do NOT bundle it into a heavy load. I do NOT carry that load on my head for hours. I do NOT break some of those branches into smaller twigs and carefully coax a flame from flint on the dirt floor by using bits of leaf and dry bark. I do NOT tend that flame in a mud hut til it becomes a steady fire. I do NOT boil the water (hauled during yesterday's chores) for a good long while to kill the parasites. I do NOT develop an eye infection from the smoky interior of the hut. I do NOT worry about infants falling into the fire. I do NOT go without breakfast myself in order to save the precious grain for the children.

In short, I do NOT start my day as the displaced women of Southern Sudan do.

Mercy Beyond Borders works with the displaced women and girls of Southern Sudan in ways that alleviate their extreme poverty. Thank you for partnering with us to make their lives a bit easier.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

When there is no water

The rains have failed for two years now in the southeastern part of Sudan, adding to the difficulties of daily life. The villagers must now walk farther and farther each day so that their animals can drink and they themselves can survive.

In neighboring Kenya, ongoing drought has meant a crippling loss of hydroelectric power, with consequent sporadic blackouts of electricity throughout the country, including in its capital, Nairobi. But in Southern Sudan, there are no rolling blackouts--there is a constant blackout. Electricity is rare--and where it exists, it's usually limited to a few hours per day. Fuel to run the generators is prohibitively expensive to purchase and also to transport into Sudan.

The plentiful oil that originates in South Sudan is piped only to the North (where it is sold for wealth and weapons by the government in Khartoum) and has not yet "trickled down" to the villages that still lack the basics for survival.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Daily Grind (not the coffee kind)

This young girl in Sudan is grinding sorghum by hand, rolling a heavy rock over and over another rock. The picture was taken, not in some past century, but this summer in a typical southern Sudanese village. If you've ever been tempted to think of your own life as a "daily grind," take a long look at this picture and realize just how lucky you are.

This girl is about 10 years old. She does not attend school. She does not belong to a soccer team. She has no toys or books or bicycle. From daylight until darkness, every day is filled entirely with tasks related to survival: hauling water, washing, finding firewood, growing food, preparing food, cooking meals, taking care of younger siblings, making (goatskin) clothing, etc.

Mercy Beyond Borders encourages families to allow their daughters to attend school, and we support the education of 830 girls at St Bakhita Primary School in Narus, Sudan. We know that on average, a girl who completes 7 or more years of education will marry later and will have 2.2 fewer children, and that those children will themselves be healthier and better educated. Education is the key. Help us make it a reality for more girls in Sudan!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

No Supermarket on the Corner

It isn't easy to describe how remote and isolated
the villages in Southern Sudan are. Even those places that are nearest the Sudanese border with Kenya require long trekking on bone-jarring roads to reach the nearest town for supplies. One section of the road, along which bandits are particularly active, requires military escort for all vehicles.
When staff at St Bakhita School need to purchase fresh produce, for example, they drive more than 2 hours each way, often with maddening waits at the immigration and customs offices along the way, to do their shopping in the town of Lokichokkio, an outpost in northern Kenya that served for several decades during the civil war as the logistical staging area for the U.N. emergency food airlifts into Sudan. In "Loki" (as it is affectionately known), you can buy fresh eggs and bananas and canned goods and staples like cornmeal and rice and sugar and cooking oil. And you can visit the local butcher shop, pictured here. Without refrigeration, of course, it's difficult to stock up on perishables that might spoil before you get them back across the border, past the inspectors, and into Sudan. But I am living witness that it is indeed possible to juggle a flat cardboard tray of eggs while riding in a bouncing vehicle through clouds of dust en route to Narus!
Think of the staff and girls of St Bakhita School the next time you stop by your local supermarket or convenience store.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Where Bullets Are Welcome

Ask any medical worker in Sudan, and s/he will tell you that the most common cause of injuries they deal with are gunshot wounds. Sadly, firearms have replaced fists as the way that men settle arguments; as a result, violence still plagues postwar Southern Sudan.

In Kuron Peace Village, where Catholic Sister Angela Limiyo runs the only health clinic in the region, it is not unusual for several gunshot victims to arrive each day. Angela herself was shot several months ago when the large truck she was riding in was randomly ambushed by bandits on the road near Narus. She had to be transported to Nairobi, Kenya, for treatment and skin grafts, and subsequently spent 3 months recuperating there before returning to her post in Sudan.

Every male in Sudan, it seems, carries a Kalashnikov (AK-47) rifle. Relics from the long civil war, these weapons are likely to be held together with twine or missing a handle, but still lethal. Guns are so commonplace that bullets have become a kind of local currency in the area: patients at the clinic pay Sister Angela with live bullets for their treatment. She gladly accepts ammunition in lieu of cash, figuring that it takes a few bullets out of circulation. Strange as it may sound, her clinic is a place where bullets are welcome!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

On my way...

Jambo! Early in July I will be flying from San Francisco to Chicago to Brussels to Nairobi to Lokichokkio (on the border between Kenya and Sudan) and then will travel northward by Land Rover into Sudan. If all goes as planned -- which is rarely if ever the case in Africa -- in Nairobi I shall be able to meet with contact persons from local agencies which also work with displaced persons: Mapendo, the Jesuit Refugee Services, and the Sudanese Women's Voice for Peace. The highlight of the trip, of course, will be in spending time with the girls whose education MERCY BEYOND BORDERS supports at St Bakhita School in Narus, Sudan, and the village women whom we are assisting with various income-generating projects. I especially want to explore options for the continuing education of St Bakhita graduates who want to pursue nursing or teaching careers.

'Tis the rainy season in Southern Sudan, so travel will be more challenging than usual, esp for this sun-loving Californian! I am bringing with me an electronic book reader, the Amazon "Kindle 2," to verify whether it can function in the extreme humidity and heat and dust, and whether it can successfully be recharged using a solar device. If the Kindle passes the "Sudan reality test" and also proves less appealing to termites than regular books, MERCY BEYOND BORDERS will seek ways in the coming year to supply our projects in Sudan with instant libraries. Each Kindle can hold over 1,000 complete books. What a boost that could be to schools in the bush!

At the moment I am stocking up on DEET spray, protein bars, and malaria pills. I will have stories and pix to share upon my return.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Women Hold Up the Sky

We all know the proverb, "Women hold up half the sky." In Africa, I believe that women hold up far more than that!

From what I have witnessed in Southern Sudan, it is the women who do all the heavy labor--not just the dangers of bearing children (Sudan has the world's highest death rate from childbirth), but also the risks of foraging for firewood and carrying water over long distances every day, the backbreaking work of growing vegetables on small plots of land, the manual pounding of maize, the constant worry of providing enough food for their children, the tending of the sick and elderly--the list goes on and on. Yet the women display remarkable strength in the face of adversities daunting enough to make most of us want to crawl into a fetal position. They liven the villages with song and dance. They dream dreams for their children's future. They pass on their values of hospitality and hope.

Mercy Beyond Borders is pleased to introduce Teody Achilo Lotto, who despite being a refugee for nearly 20 years has found innovative ways to hold up the sky. She and several colleagues founded the Sudanese Women's Voice for Peace and sponsored workshops for other refugee women in the camps: human rights, trauma healing, leadership skills, peace and reconciliation. Teody serves as liaison for MBB with groups of refugee women now leaving the camps and returning to their home villages. MBB values Teody's wisdom and experience and is honored to partner with her in lifting displaced women up from extreme poverty.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Getting Around in Sudan

I don't complain any more about potholes in my home state of California. Not after traveling in Southern Sudan, where paved roads are almost nonexistent, where bridges often have been washed away completely by flash floods, and where Land Rovers must routinely negotiate riverbeds like the one in this photo. (Yes, in case you are wondering: our car crossed this river and made it up the steep bank on the left without toppling over.)

Besides being downright difficult, travel in Sudan is also dangerous. Too many soldiers from the long civil war kept their AK-47s after the peace agreement was signed. No longer employed as soldiers, and lacking other skills, they have resorted to ambushing vehicles to commandeer their contents. One of the 3 Ugandan Sisters with whom Mercy Beyond Borders works in this area was riding in a lorry that was attacked in March; Sr Angela was shot in the leg by the random gunfire and is still undergoing skin grafts at the hospital in Kenya to which she was evacuated.

Women, of course, are most at risk, as they must walk long distances on foot to collect water and firewood every single day. Eventually the country will build roads and bridges and provide safe passage for its people, but until that day, Mercy Beyond Borders is actively seeking ways to ease the dangers that women face. Mercy Beyond Borders has responded to a request from returning refugee women to provide bicycles for women in 10 villages. You can participate by donating to Mercy Beyond Borders, 1885 De La Cruz Blvd #101, Santa Clara, CA 95050, or using the PayPal button on our website:

Thank you!
Sr Marilyn, Exec Director
Mercy Beyond Borders

Friday, May 15, 2009

Peace opens the window for improvements

For several years, the faculty of St Bakhita School in Narus, Southern Sudan, lived in pup-tents on the school compound. No water, no electricity, no modern conveniences--yet somehow the men emerged from those tents each morning in crisp long-sleeved white shirts and the women in pristine long skirts and blouses. I still marvel at how they managed to do that, as I always looked like a dishrag wilted from the heat! Lodging was even more challenging for the students, whose dorms were actually corrugated iron shipping containers, stiflingly hot in the tropical sun and stacked with bunk beds. When I visited the school in 2004 and took this photo, the North-South civil war was still raging and the school had not escaped aerial bombings. Conditions were, to put it mildly, difficult for all.
Happily, the Peace Agreement signed between North and South in 2005 has opened the way for major improvements at the school. Now there are tukuls (round huts) for the teachers, hand-made brick dorms and cinder block classrooms for the students. There is a bore well for water to be manually pumped, electricity from a generator for two hours on most evenings, and the miracle of internet connectivity when the satellite link can be accessed for a few precious hours.
Funding from Mercy Beyond Borders has reduced faculty turnover by ensuring decent teacher salaries, provided tuition, room and board for hundreds of students, and enabled the school to expand its small herd of goats for the girls' better nutrition. Mercy Beyond Borders is just beginning. We look forward to increasing our support of St Bakhita Primary School and providing scholarships to higher education for girls who graduate from its Secondary School.
Approximately $1,000/year will support girls who have shown the ability and motivation to go on for professional training (e.g., in education or the medical field).
If you'd like to partner with us in helping these young women--the first generation of Sudanese girls ever to receive formal education--send your donation to Mercy Beyond Borders, 1885 De La Cruz Blvd #101, Santa Clara, CA 95050-3000. Or use the PayPal option at our website: You'll be glad you did!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

You may hold the key

When I snapped this photo in S. Sudan last year, I was focused on the peacefulness of the scene, the bright stripes of the blanket draped on the young man walking along the dusty path and the colorful gourd he was carrying in his left hand. Only later did I notice the head of a small girl popping up from the basket on the donkey.

Now as I look at this picture, I wonder, "What will be the future of this young girl?" Will she end up --like so many girls in S. Sudan today--hauling water and firewood all her days, toiling by hand to grow a patch of vegetables, mothering a family, perhaps dying in childbirth? (Sudan has the highest mortality rate in the world during labor and delivery.)

Or will this girl be given the chance to enroll in formal education? If she does go to school, her options will be vastly expanded beyond her village hut. And her own children will be fewer in number, healthier, and better educated. Your gift to Mercy Beyond Borders raises her chances.
You may hold the key to her future!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Creature Discomfort

In the book THIS FLOWING TOWARD ME, my recently-published memoir, I devote an entire chapter to my mortal fear of spiders. My rather tame suburban upbringing had not prepared me for the frightful range of creepy crawlers that greatly outnumber us bipeds on the planet. Southern Sudan has more than its share!
During my 2008 trip to Narus, I nervously shared an outhouse with a disturbingly large black spider that eyed me from the wooden wall about 12" from my bared bottom. He stayed there all week, menacing but motionless. I, on the other hand, made my daily visits as short as possible, all the while praying that this hairy thing was not from any species that hopped.... I never did learn if that spider was poisonous. No matter: if it had edged any closer to me, I would have died from sheer panic long before venom had a chance!
The Southern Sudanese are puzzled by this phobia of mine. They have fears far more real and more deadly: malaria, cholera, meningitis; land mines, attacks by bandits, tribal conflicts, and the ever-present awareness that their fragile peace agreement with Khartoum could crumble, dragging them back into civil war.
Mercy Beyond Borders works with displaced women and children in Southern Sudan to lift them up from extreme poverty. By supporting the education of girls and the entrepreneurial efforts of returning refugee women, we improve their lives bit by bit.
Join us! You'll find more info at our website:
You can also sign up to receive our monthly eNewsletter: simply send your name and email to

Saturday, April 4, 2009

What would you give for a Klondike Bar?

A few years back, there was a tv commercial portraying the extravagant contortions which ice cream lovers would put themselves through in order to obtain a Klondike Bar. It always made me laugh, but lately I've been wondering about that tagline, "What would you give for a Klondike Bar?" in relation to the situation in southern Sudan. So I ask today, "What would you give to improve the life of a woman or girl in Sudan?

Most of you, of course, have not had the opportunity of visiting Sudan. You haven't seen, up close and personal (as I have), the strength and resilience of the people and their innate dignity even in the midst of extreme poverty. Look at this girl: she is literally wearing a gunny sack, yet she is as beautiful as any Hollywood movie star! I snapped her picture when she ran out of her hut to dance in the rain during a rare and precious downpour at Kakuma Camp in the northern Kenyan desert, temporary home for 82,000 refugees, most of them from Sudan. For many of them, the camp has not been very temporary; they have lived in it for 10 or 15 years.

For those refugees who are now returning home from the camp to their villages in Sudan, life will remain difficult. With your help, MERCY BEYOND BORDERS will be there to ease their way a bit. MBB supports the education of girls, and funds entrepreneurial projects designed and implemented by the displaced women themselves. If you can help, send a check to Mercy Beyond Borders, 1885 De La Cruz Blvd #101, Santa Clara, CA 95050. Or use the PayPal button at

You will have found an inspired answer to the question, "What would you give to improve the life of a woman or girl in Sudan?" I'm confident, too, that your own life will be enriched in the giving. THANK YOU.

Friday, March 27, 2009

War or Peace?

Technically, Southern Sudan is at peace. The 21-yr civil war between North and South ended in 2005. Yet violence remains a fact of life, and this anti-aircraft gun beside a thatched hut reminds us that the globalization of arms sales has brought weapons of destruction to even the remotest places on the planet.
On March 6th the President of Sudan, Omar Bashir, was indicted by the ICC for war crimes. He retaliated immediately by evicting all major aid organizations from the Western, Northern and Eastern sectors of Sudan. Mercy Beyond Borders was not affected because we are operating in the South--but Bashir's actions show how vulnerable the displaced are throughout Sudan.
Southern Sudan itself was disrupted this month by a strike organized by former rebel soldiers, all of them disabled by war injuries. Claiming they had not been paid their pensions for many months, they blockaded the roads and stopped all traffic in and out of Southern Sudan. After ten days or so, the dispute was resolved, but not before 17 people were killed for trying to run the blockade.
So violence in Southern Sudan persists, but Mercy Beyond Borders remains committed to easing the extreme poverty of displaced women and girls there. The girls' school we are supporting, St. Bakhita's, now has 850 students. Educating these girls, with English as a common language across tribal divisions, just might tip the future of the country toward peace.... It certainly will help them to raise the standard of living for their own families in the years ahead.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

School to School

These twin girls, orphaned by the Sudanese civil war, are now students at St Bakhita School in Narus, southern Sudan. The setting is less than ideal: blazing heat, 100 or more girls per classroom, some rooms without any desks or benches, few amenities, no running water, rustic outhouses, plenty of scorpions and spiders.... but the 800 students love being there. They come from two dozen different tribes, many of which have long histories of conflict. Here at St Bakhita's, all are learning English, making friends, and starting to bridge those ancestral divides.

Imagine the surprise of the students and faculty when they heard that 4 schools in the United States have been raising money for them! St Mary's elementary school in Sacramento, CA, St Francis elementary school in Bakersfield, CA, Sacred Heart elementary school in Sacramento, CA, and Mercy High School in Middletown, CT have already raised a total of $14,000 for their "sisters" in Sudan.

I am dreaming large dreams now: I dream that the day will soon come when every Catholic School in the U.S. will reach out to schools in Sudan with generous hands. If Mercy schools can set the pace, then everyone will catch the spirit. $50 buys a goat for the students' nutrition. $100 supports a girl at school for a full year. $3,000 pays the annual salary of a teacher. Imagine what we could do together to boost the future of this first generation of girls in Sudan ever to go to school!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Emerging from Violence

The signing of a peace agreement does not, alas, erase the effects of violence bred during decades of civil war. St. Bakhita School in Narus, Sudan, was attacked more than once from the air. Some of its students lost limbs from shrapnel; damage to the buildings is still visible. Cement-lined bomb shelters carved deep into the earth outside the classrooms bear silent witness to the threat of bombardment that hung over the students for many years. Since the peace agreement in 2005 ended active conflict in southern Sudan, life is slowly improving.
School is now a safe place for these girls--safer than home, where they may be exposed to abusive relationships from demobilized soldiers, family members who have turned to alcohol, or random violence. School offers them not only a current haven, but the hope of a future where they--that is, females--will actually have a voice. Mercy Beyond Borders feels privileged to support the students and faculty of St Bakhita School for Girls. $100 keeps a girl in school for a full year. $50 purchases a goat whose milk and offspring improve the diet of the boarders. Join us in this effort if you can! Donate via PayPal at, or MBB, 1885 De La Cruz Blvd #101, Santa Clara CA 95050.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Marginalization of Women

Why is Africa so mired in poverty? Surely it's because of the scourge of AIDS, the enmity that tribalism fosters, the corruption endemic to governments there.... All of that is true, of course, but I would add another reason, less often cited: the marginalization of women in many African cultures.

In Africa, women hold up more than half the sky. They do much more than half the work. They rise long before dawn to fetch water. They till the soil with hand tools. They raise and cook the food for their families. They bear children in situations where death-by-childbirth is all too common. They hold families together when the males are either away from home (at war, or seeking employment) or dysfunctional at home (abusive, alcoholic). Yet women's gifts are neither recognized nor honored. They have no voice. In Sudan, for example, girls are literally the property of men, deemed valuable only insofar as they can bring in a dowry of cattle when the parents marry them off--cattle which are then used by the parents to buy wives for the all-important sons.

Cultures change slowly, but education is the key. That's why Mercy Beyond Borders is supporting the education of girls in south Sudan. Once women are literate, aware of their potential, and developing their gifts, there will be less poverty and more hope in Africa! Slowly, slowly, when women are less marginalized, life will improve for everyone.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Geography of Sudan

Sudan is not only the largest country in Africa (roughly the size of western Europe) but also one of the least developed.
Sudan is really two countries: its northern half lies just below Egypt and shares Egypt's geography--vast, dry deserts flanking a narrow fertile swath created by the mighty Nile. Its peoples either live along the Nile or survive as nomads with their camels.
Sudan's southern half, however, contains mountains and plains, land made arable by heavy rainy seasons, and the world's biggest swamp (the "Sudd"). Its peoples include both farmers and herders who move with their cattle and goats. What little infrastructure existed in Southern Sudan was largely obliterated by the North's bombs during generations of civil war. That North-South ended with a peace agreement in 2005. But the war did not really end. It merely moved to the southwestern part of Sudan, known as DARFUR.

Increasing desertification is pushing the Sahara farther and farther south, and causing the northern camel herders to forage deeper into south Sudan to find water and pasture. The government in Khartoum has armed these herders--now known as "Janjaweed"--providing horses, machine guns, and air cover for them to destroy villages in their path. The devastation wreaked throughout southern Sudan for the past quarter-century is now being wreaked throughout Darfur. Omar Bashir, President of Sudan, has been cited for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

Mercy Beyond Borders is currently working in Southern Sudan with women and children displaced during the civil war, including some from Darfur.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

It Takes A Child

Some of the greatest supporters of Mercy Beyond Borders' work in Sudan are children here in the United States. Young children. When they learn that MBB is supporting the first school for girls in the whole of Southern Sudan, they are intrigued. When they find out that $100 will pay tuition, lodging and food for an entire year for one student, they are hooked!

The first school to jump on board with MBB was St Francis Elementary School in Bakersfield California. The leadership of one teacher, Annemarie Anchordoquy, generated a creative burst of energy among her students, who subsequently raised nearly $2,000 for their "sisters" at St. Bakhita School in Narus, Sudan. Their enthusiasm spilled over to the Parents Group, too, who then made a sizeable contribution to the work of Mercy Beyond Borders. The picture shows the upper classes at St Bakhita School receiving postcards from the students at St Francis School in May 2008.

The most recent school to take up the challenge of providing education for girls in Sudan is St Mary's Elementary School in Sacramento, California. Though the school has fewer than 400 students, they raised $1,600 for St Bakhita School in one week! Amazing! Kudos to teacher Mary Jo Riehl and Principal Laura Allen, but most of all to their students' remarkable compassion-in-action. When I met with the student body on Jan 29th to share pictures and stories of Sudan, I was incredibly impressed by their engagement, their intelligent questions, and their evident caring for their fellow students half-a-world away.

What if every American student cared this much and acted this effectively for their peers in developing countries? What a different world we would have....

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Perhaps you've wondered why Mercy Beyond Borders chose Southern Sudan as the location for its projects. Our mission--partnering with displaced women and children in ways that alleviate their extreme poverty--drew us to Sudan. That's where one-quarter of the world's displaced live! Nearly 40 years of civil war between North and South Sudan finally ended 3 yrs ago, allowing tens of thousands of refugees to finally leave the U.N. camps in Uganda and Kenya and walk back to their villages, and allowing Mercy Beyond Borders to start projects with them in villages throughout the South without the fear of being bombed.

[Tragically, war erupted in Darfur, the western part of Sudan, shortly after the peace agreement between North and South was signed. So the suffering of the Sudanese people continues, with the North still inflicting genocidal brutality on the people of Darfur.]

South Sudan, though technically "at peace," remains a difficult and dangerous place. It's like the Wild West: cattle-rustling, abductions, generalized violence. Removal of landmines will take many years. Returnees start with nothing. So the women have warmly welcomed Mercy Beyond Borders. We are in dialogue with them regarding the types of projects that will help them most. At the moment we have a Women's Bicycles Project and we are supporting the education of young girls. Stay tuned for future projects coming very soon!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

On the ground in Sudan

Thanks to the fundraising of our MBB Ambassadors and the generosity of hundreds of donors across the United states, Mercy Beyond Borders is now supporting 2 wonderful projects in southern Sudan.

Ms. Teody Achilo, one of the founders of the Sudanese Women's Voice for Peace, oversees our Bicycles Project with women in several villages of Eastern Equatoria (the vast region of Sudan that is immediately above the northern Kenyan and Ugandan borders). The returning refugee women requested bikes to enable them to get their hand-grown vegetables to markets at neighboring villages without having to make the dangerous pre-dawn trips on foot. Bartering and selling their produce provides basic goods for their families as they literally rebuild from the ground up after long, fruitless years in refugee camps.

Sr Kathleen Connolly, a California Sister of Mercy, flew from San Francisco to Nairobi this morning, and will be moving on to St Bakhita School in Narus, Sudan at the end of January (or as soon as her visa is in order). Kathleen will help out at the school, tutoring some of the 800 girls, helping with after-school activities, and teaching maternal/child health and hygiene to the women in the area. Stay tuned for regular updates.