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....
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!
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.