Thursday, December 22, 2016

Can My Grandmother Come to School with Me?

Catherine is 10 yrs old, a student at St Bakhita's in South Sudan. Her Christmas wish is that her younger siblings and her grandmother could come to school with her, because there is "no food in the villages."  Read her own words....

I am in 2nd grade at St Bakhita Girls Primary School. I come from a village 200 miles away from here. This school is a good place to be. There is education, food and even caring, loving people.

When I first arrived here I had nothing except only one dress on my body; no books, no nothing. Now I am better: learning in class, eating porridge every day and having many friends. Also, every month Sr. Susan distributes soap to us girls and I can get some every time. I really thank God. I am in Typing class on the computer, too, one of the projects funded by MBB. I am happy for all that!

When I was in the village our life was not easy because my mother died, leaving three of us very young.  My father is a soldier at the front line. He could do nothing for us. Me being the elderly child among my three siblings I decided to take up the responsibility to take care of them; otherwise we were going to starve. Every morning I woke up in the dark and went to the forest searching for firewood, wild fruits and vegetables. This was our source of survival. Though I was just 8 yrs old, I could do more than a big person could do. 

When my father saw me working he became happy and proud of me. He decided to send me to school while taking my 2 younger siblings to my grandmother. That is why am in St Bakhita’s today. I study very hard so that in Future I can lift my family from this poor condition if God keeps me and them alive.

When the school closes for Christmas, I will go to look for my family because I miss them so much. If there is a possibility I will request the school to allow me to bring my younger siblings and my grandmother to school with me so they might get some food to eat as I continue with my studies.  I know there is no food in the village because I heard people have moved to other places because of hunger and I wonder how my family is surviving there by now? I pray let God have mercy on them and me and keep us all safe as I travel this long difficult journey to reach them there.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Check the Fine Print

Can you see it?  On the bottom left side of the pink poster?  In the blue ink?  

It says, "GIVE ME A PEN, NOT MEN."  

Girls of South Sudan marched through towns to raise awareness of their desire for education. They are begging parents to allow their daughters to enroll in school, stay in school, and defer early marriage for the sake of their health and future.

Mercy Beyond Borders couldn't agree more!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hey, That Looks Like Me...

Colorful new murals painted by students onto the walls of St Bakhita School last month are drawing a lot of attention from the local community. 

Here's a Toposa woman on the school campus marveling at a canoe in which her likeness sits holding a baby. The canoe is decorated with the flag of South Sudan, a country that remains tragically divided by ethnic conflicts.  St Bakhita School is one of the few places where girls of many different tribes live and study peacefully, side by side.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Recycling Genius

One of the sorry realities of many developing countries is the amount of litter everywhere. Walking along a city street or a country path, you see a landscape marred by discarded plastic bags and plastic soft drink bottles. Rarely is there any organized trash recycling. Few people seem to value keeping their surroundings beautiful.

A group in Port-au-Prince is modeling something better. They use discarded soft drink bottles -- yes, Fantas and Coca-Colas -- to create houses!  They cut the bottom third from the soda pop containers to embed in concrete walls.  The bottle bottoms allow colored light to filter into the rooms, giving an almost stained-glass radiance to the otherwise dark interior. 

These artisans have even managed to make a toilet cubicle look more like, ahem, a throne room!

Really, it's ingenious. 

Next time you are in Port-au-Prince, check them out:
the Haiti Communiterie Hostel, near the airport.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

How do you say THANK YOU?

Nerlinda, one of MBB'S high school Scholars in Haiti, wants to THANK YOU personally on this Thanksgiving Day:

In Kreyol:  MESI ANPIL

Nerlinda lives with her mother, step-father, brother, sister, niece and two cousins. There is no electricity but they do have a bathroom inside the house where they can take a bucket shower. She appreciates all that MBB does for her: a free academic Scholarship; weekly Computer Classes; and annual Summer Leadership Camp. "I feel so blessed and thankful," she says.  

To pay it forward, Nerlinda tutors young children one weekend per month. "As she began a lesson," says Gail Grady, MBB's Interim Director in Haiti, "I watched as Nerlinda sweetly put her arm around this young boy's shoulders and pulled him closer.  It is very natural and common in Haiti to see people walking hand in hand or arm in arm; women with women, men with men, teenage boys with teenage boys, older siblings with younger siblings. This desire for a physical connection is something I very much admire."

Nerlinda dreams of becoming a pediatrician. For now she intends to plant trees in the community of Gros Morne. In the future, when she has money, she hopes to open a free hospital to treat children who cannot otherwise afford care. 

Her message to MBB supporters is simple: "THANK YOU for this scholarship that keeps me in school. I hope you continue so that other young women in Haiti have this same chance."

Monday, November 21, 2016

Who Let That MOUSE in Here?

A group of South Sudanese artists brought Micky Mouse to St Bakhita Primary School last week. What a hit!  After receiving quick lessons in color and form, the girls dipped brushes into paint and brightened up the the walls of their school, inside and out.  The artists mentored them as the students completed 21 murals in 5 days.  And what fun it was!  Even in the midst of a war zone, we all need beauty as much as bread.  

Thursday, November 10, 2016

High Fashion in South Sudan

Yes, South Sudan is riven by a violent civil war. Yes, people are distressed and displaced.  But you can't stop ART.  We all need beauty as much as bread.  

Look at John!  He may be diminutive but he's definitely spirited.  He has fashioned for himself a colorful belt of discarded bottles to decorate his ragged shorts.  Call it ingenuity. Call it performance art. Call it proof that creativity flourishes even in the worst of conditions...  Thank you, John!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

What is THAT?

Every person I have met in South Sudan cares deeply about things that grow. They know all about planting and tending and weeding and harvesting. They know exactly when the rains should come, and they know hunger when the rains fail.  

Shanas, one of MBB's Scholarship alums who is now a teacher in South Sudan, came to Calif recently to meet with our Board and donors, and she was enthralled by the produce markets.  "What is that? How does it grow?  What is the taste? How do you prepare it?  Is it bitter or sweet? " Wrinkled acorn squash fascinated her.

And when she saw an apple tree, she was almost too excited to talk. "Oh, I have heard about apples, but never seen such a tree!"  

Her companion, Sr Sue Claire from St Bakhita School, was equally

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Jamaican Beauty

Lest you think that Mercy Beyond Borders is all work and no play, last month I spent time in Jamaica giving some presentations at the University of the West Indies.  Traveling to the various venues, I soaked in the sparkling Caribbean scenery: crystal blue waters, magnificent mountains, abundant trees and bright flowers. The people were captivating, too!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Not so Exotic Anymore

There was a time within living memory when air travel was very special and somewhat exotic. Passengers dressed up for their trips . This was, of course, before Homeland Security stepped in and we were reduced to emptying our pockets and stripping off shoes and jackets and allowing our bodies as well as our belongings to be scrutinized and x-rayed. The days of exotic flying are long gone.

But for someone who has never traveled internationally, there is still a thrill to it!  This week MBB sponsored Shanas, to California to meet with our Board and donors.  They arrived from South Sudan via Lodwar, Nairobi, Amsterdam, Portland and SFO, a bit bedraggled but nonetheless enthralled by the airports they saw en route and the strange food served on their various flights.

Shanas is one of MBB's first Scholarship alums, now a teacher in South Sudan. Sr Susan is the staff member responsible for the hundreds of young girls boarding at St Bakhita Primary School.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

One Seed at a Time

When harvests fail, famine stalks the land. When war spreads, even planting is impossible. But even when there is no food, women still need to feed their children.  Here we see two women in Narus, South Sudan, picking through a pile of rubbish to find edible seeds. Tiny seed by tiny seed, they collect a handful.

Foreign countries repeatedly try to send food aid to these regions, but conflict often closes the roads and prevents delivery.

Peace is the prerequisite for ending hunger.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Who's New in Haiti?

MBB Haiti has recently added new staff for its Women's Center!  

In addition to the Interim Director, Gail, we welcome the Literacy teacher, Anna; the Sewing instructor, Dieustin (shown here with an eager student); the Baking instructor, Osempleur; and the clerical assistant, Evadly. 

We're forming a fantastic team for the advancement of women in Gros Morne!

Thursday, September 15, 2016


For a few fleeting years after South Sudan's independence in 2011, the most dangerous part of daily life was the presence of thousands of unexploded land mines throughout the new country. You can purchase and bury one for a dime, but it will cost you $1,000 to remove it.  

After independence, highly-specialized mine removal teams worked slowly and cautiously, clearing only a small patch of land per day. 

But now, those teams cannot work.  Another danger has displaced them: war.  People are again running through the bush (where the mines lurk unseen) to escape the violence and the killing that can be seen.  No place is safe.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Need a Charge?

One of the amazing things about working in developing countries is seeing the practical ingenuity of the people. They manage to create revenue-generating activity on every scrap of space, whether it's a quarter-acre farm or a single square meter holding a makeshift table beside a busy road. 
As a result, you can find nearly anything -- much of it "gently used", of course.  This fellow in Haiti hawks phone chargers, wall outlets, and all the wire you need to make sparks fly. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016


A few weeks ago MBB Scholars Lilly, Joyce and Tabu were typical students, diligently studying at their respective high schools in South Sudan. Then the civil war engulfed them.

They fled on foot into the bush, trying to escape but the soldiers caught up with them. Adults running with them were raped and murdered. The girls were robbed and beaten but then released. Moving through the bush, staying away from main roads, they eventually made their way into Uganda.  Now they are officially refugees. This tent is now "home" for the three of them.

MBB scholarships coordinator Sr Edvine is in process of registering them into a local high school where classroom routine might offer some counterbalance to their trauma. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Dawn Amid Danger?

Sr Marilyn, Exec Dir of Mercy Beyond Borders, snapped this photo a few months ago in Narus, South Sudan.  She says it evokes the tension that grips the whole country:  will a new dawn spread its hope throughout South Sudan? or will the ominous storm clouds prevail?  

South Sudan's top elected officials refuse to work together to build peace. Instead, they are again directing all their energies and resources into civil war.  Thousands of women and children are running to refugee camps for relative safety. Mercy Beyond Borders will stand with them there....

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Happy in Haiti

We do not deny that Haiti is afflicted with poverty, environmental degradation, 80% unemployment, cholera and now the Zika virus, too. We are well aware that most girls there never have the chance to attend more than a few years of primary school. But that isn't the whole story! There's plenty of happiness, too, as you can see on the faces of these Mercy Beyond Borders' high school Scholars during an MBB-sponsored outing to the local river.  Look at how beautiful and resilient they are!  

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Good News from South Sudan

There isn't much good news coming out of South Sudan these days, given the spreading civil war. Yet daily life goes on for the 702 girls at St Bakhita Girls' School.  Education is recognized as a great "stabilizer" for children in unstable situations. School provides structure and security (and yes, fun and games) even in war zones and refugee camps. Here you see the happiness of young girls who've received pillowcase dresses from Mercy Beyond Borders. The very first dresses of their own!  More than enough reason to rejoice!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

An Admiring Glance

Valki Anderson, shown here with MBB Scholar Isabel, has completed her year as Scholarship Coordinator for Mercy Beyond Borders in Haiti.

Valki returned to the States a few days ago. She's a gifted linguist. Fluent in French before her arrival, she quickly picked up Kreyol as well and was able to converse with our Scholars and their family members.  It's obvious from the affection on Isabel's face that Valki will be missed! 

As you can see in the picture below, the Scholars didn't want to part with Valki's dog, Manchu, either....
Thank you, Valki, for all the ways you contributed to the academic progress of the girls in our Haiti Scholarship Program over the past year!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Emmanuel on Radio Emmanuel

It isn't every day that you get grabbed off the street and invited to be the guest on a call-in radio show.  But that's what happened to Emmanuel Dan Apeu-O, the Director for MBB projects in E. Africa.  

When the producer for Radio Emmanuel (no relation) in Torit, South Sudan, realized that our own Emmanuel was passing through town, he immediately cajoled him into hosting a live evening broadcast. In fact, the session lasted several hours!  Listeners called in with many questions about MBB and about our scholarship program in particular, because such an opportunity is truly rare and wonderful for young women in South Sudan. 

Thank you, Emmanuel, for spreading the word about MBB on Radio Emmanuel!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Hangin' with the Chair

MBB's scholars in South Sudan were surprised and delighted when Theresa Samuel-boko, the Board Chair of MBB, joined them for their 2016 Leadership Week.

Seen here surrounded by happy scholars in Eldoret, Theresa (third from right, in blue and white) fit right in. Theresa was born in what is now South Sudan during the long war. She has a master's degree and manages the refugee resettlement program at Catholic Charities in San Jose.  She's a wonderful role model for these young S.Sudanese women currently studying in Africa with MBB Scholarships. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Summer Camp in Haiti

Haitians who attend high school might take English language classes, but few ever become fluent because Kreyol, French and Spanish are much more dominant on the island. To give MBB students a boost in acquiring English skills, our first ever English Language Camp is underway now in Haiti. 40 of our top students are spending two weeks of their summer vacation immersed in the maddening intricacies of spoken and written English.  

Assisting our Scholarship Coordinator Valki Anderson (left) and hoisting Country Director Elisa Divoux to new heights are an intrepid team of volunteers from the States: Janine ter Kuile, Alyssa Frommeyer, teacher Lindsay Cummings, and Mary & Craig Noke. Looks as if they will definitely make the Summer Camp fun! 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Happy Reunion

Sr Susan, surrounded happily by her former charges

Sister Susan has been the Matron caring for the young boarders (3 yrs old through 8th grade) at St Bakhita Girls' Primary School for longer than anyone can remember. She stayed through the dangers of the long civil war. She stayed when the school was bombed. She stayed even after she was ambushed (two separate times) on the dangerous roads of South Sudan -- ambushes which killed another passenger and wounded the driver.  She has stayed through thick and thin. Why?  Because she loves the girls and wants them, against all odds, to have an education.  

Last month Sr Susan had a happy reunion with six of her former students: Keni Shanas, Palma Joy Samson, Margaret Akoo, Angel Christine Karama, and Nakele Cecilia Lokibe. All are now studying at university on MBB Scholarships. They came together for MBB's annual Leadership Conference in Eldoret, Kenya, Lots of hugs and memories and laughter!  I'm rather sure Sr Susan felt like a proud grandmother....

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Another Side of Haiti

OK, what comes to mind when you think of HAITI?

Earthquakes? Poverty? Poorest country in the Western Hemisphere?  Yes, yes, and yes.  

ut here's a well-kept secret: Haiti also has tropical weather and lovely people and spectacular, uncrowded, sandy beaches. Don't take my word for it: take a look yourself....

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Teeming with Life

I love this picture taken recently by MBB's Country Director in Haiti, Elisa Divoux.  Why? Because it speaks to me of the LIFE teeming just below the surface in Haiti. Sure, there are plenty of fish in Haiti's clear blue Caribbean waters. But there is also a wealth of talent and ingenuity and resilience in the hearts of the people of Haiti. They struggle with the effects of deforestation and erosion, poor government, schools so expensive that most families cannot afford education, and a dismal lack of paid employment opportunities. Despite all this, they never give up. We could learn a lot from them....

Thursday, June 16, 2016

What's STRANGE about this Picture?

To the casual observer, there is nothing strange about this picture. It's merely a girl tutoring a boy.
But wait! This girl and this boy are both in South Sudan, where males rule and females are worthless. Where boys go to school while girls stay at home. Where men always have the upper hand, treating women as if they have no rights.

Given that context, this is indeed a strange and wondrous picture.  It shows a confident, well-educated girl helping a teen boy to figure out his homework.  It shows Vionzy, an MBB Scholar demonstrating our shared value of compassionate action by volunteering in her local school during her own vacation time from university.  It's a dramatic cultural shift happening right before our eyes!  And it's being made possible by donors to MBB. Thank you!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Trendy? No. Reliable? Yes!

Much as everyone wants "the latest" in transportation (I myself can hardly wait for Google's self-driving cars), there is something to be said for the solid, steady, uncomplaining service of a donkey. 

In rural northern Haiti, to be sure, cars cannot get up and down the steep mountains and ravines, and only the foolhardy go by moto (motorcycle) on the slippery gravel trails. But rain or shine, morning, noon and night, you will see Haiti's donkeys plodding slowly along, heavily burdened like their owners.  

They may not be trendy but they get the job done!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Which One are You?

Girls love being at St Bakhita Primary School for many reasons:

1.  It's a safe place where they are treated as human beings and saved from early marriage.
2.  The teachers recognize their abilities and help them to develop their gifts.
3.  Besides the regular curriculum, the school offers ART and SPORTS and COMPUTERS, activities that girls in South Sudan would otherwise never have the opportunity to engage in!

Here are the clay masks the girls created to express basic emotions. Which one speaks to you?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Live, Love, Laugh in Kansas City

What's crowded and fun and full of excitement one Friday of each year in Kansas City, MO?  It's the annual LIVE LOVE LAUGH festival raising friends and money beneath a big tent for girls' education in South Sudan and Haiti!

Organized by the indefatigable Jo Marie Guastello and her amazing family, this is a block party you don't want to miss.  Genuine Italian sausages, plenty of cold beer, desserts to die for--and most of all, the friendliest folks on the planet. All coming together to boost the work of Mercy Beyond Borders.

Top, see the items bring raffled. Above: "Cousin Frank with Jo Marie's brother, Paul."

Would you believe? This event, coupled with a 5k run the same weekend, brings in tens of thousands of dollars?  Wow! This is the American spirit of volunteering at its finest.  We thank you, Jo Marie, and we thank the whole village that makes it happen.  Awesome!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Leg to Stand On

At first you wouldn't even notice that Ijok has one plastic leg. She stands straight, smiles often, and even runs on the playground at St Bakhita Primary School in S.Sudan. She will tell you straight out, "Even if I am disabled, I can do anything!"  And I believe her.

As an infant, Ijok was caught in a rebel ambush. "My mother was shot in the stomach," she says, "and I lost two fingers and one leg to the bullets."  (That is how she got the name, Ijok, meaning "Bad Luck.") 

Ijok adds, "Then my mother, I suppose, could not imagine how to raise a child who had only one good hand and one leg. She ran away and disappeared, leaving me in the hospital. I was rescued and raised by my grandmother."

Happily, Ijok's grandmother found a way to bring her to St Bakhita's. Now she's thriving. She loves reading, playing with friends, and learning new things, especially in the MBB computer lab.  She has a future now! 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Who doesn't love a puddle?

The kids in South Sudan are just like your own kids in so many ways.

After a rain shower, they jump in puddles and  chase one another around the school yard. They float leaves in the ditches and find treasures under the rocks.

But in South Sudan they must also look out for poisonous snakes and scorpions--and of course the malarial mosquitoes that thrive in stagnant water.

Never mind. They're having fun today!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

South Sudan to San Francisco

Maureen Limer, a Sister of Mercy from northern England, has served the peoples of E.Africa for the past 35 yrs, including many years in South Sudan. Oh, the stories she could tell!  She's now a volunteer in South Sudan with MBB's scholarships program.

Maureen recently spent a few weeks in California and participated in a meeting of the MBB Board. She's pictured here at "Land's End" in San Francisco with board member Shirley Tamoria, MD. Land's End, you say??? Surely that describes S.Sudan more than San Francisco!

PS:  If you are ever planning a safari to Maasai land in Kenya, contact Maureen first. She taught most of those safari guides when they were in school.  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Currency Collapse

On average, teachers in South Sudan earn from 450 - 600 S.Sudan Pounds (SSP) per month.  Until last month, that was roughly $150 - $200 USD. Not a fortune, but enough to make ends meet. 

Then the government, giving in to international pressure to reduce the yawning gap between its official exchange rate (3.1 SSP = $1 USD) and the street exchange rate (38 SSP = $1 USD), allowed the Pound to float.  Its value plummeted. Today that teacher’s monthly salary is worth a pitiful $15 - $20. 

Adding to the misery, the government has not paid any civil servants their salaries since last November.  Teachers, soldiers, health workers, clerks…. No one!  

Even the most dedicated ex-pat teachers who stayed in South Sudan throughout all the years of war and turmoil and danger are leaving their posts because the $50 border-crossing fee eats more than 2 months’ pay!  Kenyans and Ugandans who were, in many cases, the only trained teachers in S.Sudanese schools, can no longer afford to stay.  It’s going to be a very rough year for everyone, including students.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


Q.  When is a rubber band not a rubber band?
A.   Soon after you bring it into South Sudan.

Within 24 hours the rubber band hardens, cracks and splits open from the intense heat. It’s no longer elastic and no longer a band. It’s a useless brittle strip of what was formerly quite handy for holding things together.  

South Sudan is like that now. It’s hard to hold things together there. The country is unraveling: hardening and cracking and splitting open from political and tribal divisions, violence, currency devaluation, famine, and massive population displacements.  When is a country not a country? South Sudan teeters on the edge.

Once again, I’ve emerged unscathed from several weeks inside South Sudan. The odds of that are not favorable, but I am lucky that way.  

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Reality TV ?

One lone and very dusty TV set occupies a place of honor in the meeting hall of the Narus compound where I stay when visiting St Bakhita School in South Sudan.  It sits atop an old wooden cabinet, next to a wall clock forever stuck at eleven minutes to six. The TV is on for an hour or two each evening, powered by a generator. It gets only one station: CCTV, an African version of Chinese state broadcasts. Under the guise of world news, it treats us nightly to a peculiar perspective on current events. My favorite was a recent documentary about how the Chinese government honors the Tibetan culture by “preserving” its monasteries as museums. The videography was stunning but the narrator neglected to mention China’s systematic oppression of Tibetan people and religion. Or its imprisonment of monks and nuns. Or its forced relocation into Tibet of tens of thousands of ethnic Chinese to replace the indigenous Tibetans. 

Well, I watched the station several times. There isn’t much else to do once darkness falls. Each night without fail, at about 9:00pm and lit only by the glow of the TV screen, a small swarm of bats swoops up and outward from some secret hideaway behind the wooden TV cabinet, lurches lopsidedly around the room and eventually settles onto upside down perches from the ceiling.  Now, THAT’s reality TV!  

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Sting Operation

Yes, it's a scorpion. The kind whose sting can kill a child, or make an adult writhe in pain for 3 days. The kind that thrive in hot, dry, gritty deserts--just the very sort of place that is Narus, South Sudan.

My close encounter occurred when I was looking for a rag to wipe the dust off my laptop.  I reached out to grab a washcloth hanging from a rack on the wall.  Living in constant fear of spiders, I had the good sense to lift the rag very gingerly and shake it a bit to dislodge any unwanted critters. As I pulled it carefully off the rack, I saw the scorpion, larger than my thumb, on the wall just behind it. 

I suppressed a scream and instead squeaked, "Sister Edvine!  In here, please!"  Edvine-the-Brave came running (she just earned a raise from MBB), took one look at the scorpion, uttered a respectful "Ooooh," and summarily thwacked it with her sandal, resulting in one fewer scorpion in South Sudan and one very relieved Executive Director.

Thursday, March 24, 2016


I had invited the Principal of St Bakhita High School over to “my place” in South Sudan (a corrugated iron shipping container long since converted into a guest dwelling). There I was, sitting casually on a flimsy plastic chair across the small round table from him, chatting about the challenges of running a boarding school where there are never enough trained teachers.  Beyond the meshed wire windows I could hear birds trilling and see the garden thick with trees growing ‘round the bomb shelter.  Then I heard a scampering. Tiny feet skittering across mesh. An unmistakable sound. And a long naked tail trailing behind. Hard to ignore. 

Yes, a sizeable rat was dashing along the mesh several inches behind the head of my guest. Dashing, that is, until our eyes met: then Mr. Rat froze in place, pretending to blend into the general scenery. Ha!  If it could have grinned at me, it probably would have: “This is my house, too, you know!”  I conceded the point: I am only a visitor here for a few weeks. We wordlessly agreed to share the space: “I’ll take the ground floor, please; you can have the rafters.”

Postscript: two days after writing the above paragraph, I cornered a large plump rat in the shower stall. Again, a brave MBB colleague dispatched it to the netherworld. But all night long we heard the running of many, many tiny feet in the rafters. Perhaps they were gathering for the funeral?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Firewood Woman

The firewood woman—I did not learn her name--looks old and weary and worn, yet she has a toddler with her so she must be young. She once had a husband who helped her with the work, cutting and bundling the wood. He died. She is now a widow stripped of all possessions (according to the Levirate custom); even the wedding necklaces she once proudly wore were reclaimed by the dead man’s brothers. 

Reduced to near starvation, this Firewood Woman has walked four miles to reach here. She steps slowly, deliberately into the Narus compound beneath her heavy load, then bends to topple its weight onto the ground. She sits on the dirt and turns her head upward, hoping that the compound manager will purchase the wood so that she and her child can eat. But no, she has come too late: the compound bought its supply of wood yesterday from another woman. 

This firewood woman sits motionless on the ground for another hour, absorbing the news the way the earth absorbs the punishing heat, without complaint; then she hoists her burden onto her head, stands upright, and walks back through the gate.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


Some people say they are unlucky in life; others unlucky in love. Myself, I am unlucky in phones. 

Both my mother and my mother’s mother had careers as telephone operators --long before cell phones, when Ma Bell was still a monopoly, back when phone numbers had quaint names like “Klondike 3477” and a switchboard actually involved switching a wild tangle of lines manually from one plug to another on a huge board.  

Despite the fact that I must have inherited some of those clever genes, I hate phones. And they know it. They snicker when they see me coming. Several months ago I purchased a basic phone in Haiti specifically for travel. I used it while visiting MBB projects there.  When I reached Nairobi en route to South Sudan recently I confidently produced the cell phone and exchanged the Haitian sim card for a Kenyan sim card. Nothing happened. No lights, rings, or whistles. It didn’t work. The technician who had just sold the sim card to me said, “Your phone, Madam, it is locked. This will function only in Haiti.” Perhaps you heard the slow grinding of teeth.  There is no way around it. I am unlucky with phones. I accept my fate.

PS: The above paragraph was written upon my arrival to Kenya in February. While going through security screening at Nairobi’s main airport this past weekend prior to my flight home, my smart phone was stolen.  Need I say it again? Definitely unlucky with phones. Sigh.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Coping with Malaria

Thanks to the generosity of Dignity Health System in San Francisco, Mercy Beyond Borders has been able to bring Sr Edvine Tumuheirwe, an experienced RN, to live and work at St Bakhita Girls' Primary School for a year.  Given that there are over 700 girls in the school (half of them boarding), she does not lack for patients.  In her first 2 months on campus, she treated 82 cases of malaria, plus girls with pneumonia, skin rashes, parasites, and more. Here you see her comforting a feverish girl while others lie in the shade of a classroom behind her. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Our Two Edvines

What are the odds that, among 4 MBB staff in South Sudan, two of them would be named "Sr Edvine"???  And that both of their surnames would begin "Tum...."  That would be Edvine Tumwesigye and Edvine Tumuheirwe, to be precise.  The former is our amazing Scholarships Coordinator, and the latter is our newly-resident nurse at St Bakhita Girls' Primary School.  In our books they are simply Edvine #1 and Edvine #2. We love them both!

Here's Edvine #1, who traverses the vast, rough geography of Kenya and S.Sudan to support and encourage our Scholars.

And here's Edvine #2 tending to a young girl sweating with malaria.

Day after day, they do the hard work of improving the lives of women and girls with MBB in South Sudan.