November 25, 2014

Report on Trip to Mercy South Africa

‘The role of the enabler, as it was for Catherine McAuley, is to allow the people to choose what course of action they are able to take and then to walk with them...’
J. Regan rsm


          Denise Boyle rsm with Sisters in Soweto

What follows is a brief report of the activities we engaged in during our visit:

Sunday 2nd Nov: Met at the airport by Srs. Colmcille Roche and Colleen Wilkinson who drove us to Pretoria, where we spent time with the Sisters and later visited the Union Buildings. Throughout our stay relaxing over meals and hearing the Sisters’ stories was very enriching and enlightening.

Monday 3rd Nov: Trip to Winterveldt, 40 kms north of Pretoria with Sr. Colmcille to see the Mercy project. This incorporates a health centre, the diabetes mobile clinic van which includes medical consultations and regular health education sessions from Dr Nthuli and a TB Unit. The well cared for vegetable garden is an important element of wellness and the poverty alleviation nutrition programme.

Our visit to the ‘DWT Nthate Skills Training Centre’ revealed a comprehensive programme offering training in joinery, bricklaying, construction, carpentry, welding, dress making, information technology, craft work, cabinet making and bread making. These courses provide a means of developing the potential of students, building confidence and making them more employable. Selling the products produced is a valuable means of sourcing much needed financial resources. Students in the Ault Learning Center, which affords education to those who may have left school without matriculation, were completing their exams. Sr. Rita Carey who is involved in prison ministry, shared a little about her important ministry with prisoners and their families.

Erasmus Outreach Programme: On the way back to Pretoria we stopped at the Erasmus project, an outreach of ‘Mercy House’ in Pretoria. In return for three days labour each week, participants receive money and the opportunity of skills training, to assist them become financially independent. They also participate in community decision making on local development priorities.

Tuesday 4th Nov: We spent the morning at ‘Mercy House for Women and Children’ in Pretoria, with Sr. Colleen Wilkinson rsm the Coordinator and Mary Mmusi the Social Worker. The philosophy behind the project is to offer a place of refuge and safety. It is obvious the Staff Team work hard to provide a caring, nurturing environment to facilitate healing, empower survivors, provide skills training and assist the women re-integrate back into society. During our visit we met survivors of trafficking and also some women who have escaped from abusive relationships.

In the afternoon Aine and Denise gave a presentation to the Mercy and Loreto Sisters on the MIA Global Action programme, including our ministry at the UN in NY on behalf of the Mercy Family.

Wednesday 5th Nov: Sr. Colleen drove us to Johannesburg to stay at the Rosebank Convent. The sisters were most welcoming. In the afternoon we spent time with Sr Kathy Rule, the Provincial Leader.

At 5.00pm we attended the opening of the new wing in St. Teresa’s High School, which is providing much needed classrooms, science labs and a large multi-purpose hall. The school choir sang beautifully for all the guests, prior to the official opening by Sr. Kathy and the Parish priest. Through Sr. Barbara Sumner, the Principal, students engage in a variety of outreach justice projects, including being involved with the ‘Immaculata Hall Homeless Centre’, adjacent to the school in Rosebank.

Thursday 6th Nov: We attended the ‘Trust Lunch’ held at the First National Bank (FNB) conference centre, for the Trustees of the Sisters of Mercy Education and General Trusts plus some key donors. The purpose of the lunch was to update those present including Mr. Liam Mac Gabhann, the new Irish Ambassador, on the Mercy Projects and to source further funding for specific needs. Aine and Denise gave a 15 minute presentation on the MIA Global Action programme.

Trustees expressed appreciation for gaining a deeper understanding of the global justice outreach of Mercy; and how their contribution in South Africa was a part of the bigger Mercy picture. The luncheon provided the opportunity to meet the Trustees and Donors, plus learn more about the impact of the presence and various ministries of the Mercy Sisters within the broader community.

Mercy Homeless Shelters: In the afternoon Sr. Chrissie McGettrick RSM, took us to visit two of the three Mercy Shelters – ‘Strabane Mercy Shelter’ Kerk St, which has 100 beds for women and men and ‘Mercy Primedia Centre’ in Berea with 21 beds for women. Both centres provide up to 10 months accommodation including breakfast and supper. Skill training is offered at weekends to uplift and give dignity to residents whilst they are looking for employment. Next morning we visited the third centre ‘Immaculata Hall Homeless Centre’ in Rosebank. The three centres were spotless, with a lovely relaxed and friendly atmosphere, where residents are obviously respected, supported and given hope.

Mercy Primedia Centre offers skill training in IT and sewing, plus a month long bakery course – at minimal cost for residents and non-residents. At the end of the course each student is given a three ring stove and baking kit, so they can set up a small business immediately.

The first homeless shelter was established by Sr. St John Enright rsm who seeing the homeless on the streets said: ‘we have to do something about this’. With support of the sisters and money from generous donors the project became a reality. Today the shelters are critically important in offering safety plus an environment conducive to residents seeking employment when they first come to Johannesburg from rural areas and other countries. Johannesburg acts as a magnet for the whole country.

Friday 7th Nov: With Sr Chrissie visited Soweto to see St. Matthew’s School. Sr. Francis rsm, the Principal took us to meet Sr Bechmans Dowling rsm who had organised a short performance by the marimba players, followed by the school choir - both were most enjoyable!

Sr. Marla Yeck, from the Sisters of the Americas, who is responsible for the family feeding programme welcomed us to the Centre. Once a month 500 people arrive – previously assessed– with 5 Rand, to receive a ‘food pack’ worth a 100 Rand. After lunch Sr. Marla took us on a brief tour of Kliptown, a ‘shack area’ where many of the students come from, yet all of them look clean and smart in their school uniform.

The dedication of the Sisters is reflected in the students, who appear to be very motivated, disciplined and friendly. In the spirit of Catherine McAuley, the only criterion to get into the school is that you are from a poor family and are Catholic. Each year the exam results of this school are outstanding!

Sat 8th Nov: Presentation for the Mercy Sisters plus the WAACSA members (We Are All Church, South Africa) and other interested persons. Our presentation was well received evoking good questions, which highlighted the importance of speaking about critical justice issues within a human rights framework. Douglas Irvine the Chair and his wife Colleen invited us to join Sr. Elaine, who works in the parish plus some friends to lunch in their home.

The invitation to spend time with the Sisters in Pretoria and Johannesburg provided a rich, thought provoking experience for Aine and me. Heartfelt gratitude to Srs. Kathy and Colleen who facilitated the programme and to each Sister we met. Our lives have been enriched by who you are - thank you!....

‘Thousands of thanks and praise to God’s Holy Name,’ Catherine McAuley
Messages to: Denise Boyle fmdm - Assistant Director Mercy Global Action

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