Women of Colon Walking Together
Sister Barbara Ozelski grew up in the Big Apple (New York) in the heart of the city. Arriving in Colon in 1985, she found heartwrenching scenes, an alarming number of people, particularly single mothers and their children living in extreme poverty. At that time, unemployment was 50% and scenes of violence against women and children were frequent. Today, unemployment in the city is 80%. Some of the single mothers earned an oppressive $150 per month sweeping streets of the city, barely paying for their children's schooling. Others got swept up into the despair of prostitution, trying to survive and feed their children. In 1987, Sister Barbara and Dina Altamiranda (then, a lay volunteer) initiated the Women's Program, beginning in a room of an Episcopal Church, with six empoverished single mothers and their children.
Over these past fifteen years, the Sisters of Mercy have served thousands of poor mothers through their project, "Women of Colon Walking Together." Their Center provides skill development, training, a mini co-op and support to poverty stricken, single mothers. On-going formation treats the whole person: phychologically, physically, culturally, spiritually and intellectually. Daycare, a pre-school program and a Saturday program is available for the children. Leadership training is also part of the formation on all levels. The Center presently serves over 100 mothers, plus their many children, some pregnant teenagers, several blind women and also native Kuna Indian mothers and children. Dina Altamiranda, through the years, not only became a licensed psychologist, but she also took her vows to join Sister Barbara as a Sister of Mercy.
These women and children have reached the lowest points in their lives when they arrive at the Center in Colon. The Sisters of Mercy help them build their strength so that they can finally help themselves. Their Center helps these women become better educated and skilled, productive, self sufficient women, in order to rely on others less and most importantly, sever the vicious cycles of poverty and violence that so often go hand in hand. This is why this charity deserves our support and our prayers. It is not only providing assistance and relief to those whose spirits are so crushed and whose lives are in danger, but it provides these women with programs to at least give their children hope for a better future.