NEWS CENTRE

From the EO of Mercy Works Inc.

Welcome to the first edition of our new magazine, The Bilum. You may be wondering why we chose this name. In Papua New Guinea, bilums or hand-woven string bags, have been crafted and used by people for hundreds of years to carry a range of items.

In her recently launched book, Crossings in Mercy: The Story of the Sisters of Mercy Papua New Guinea 1956-2006, Sister Tess Flaherty says that women use bilums to carry their “most precious and essential” belongings, “first, and above all” their baby, then garden food or firewood. Tess goes on to describe the bilum as a feminine symbol of a
mother’s “enduring love and care for her family”.

In this way, the bilum is a powerful symbol for us at Mercy Works, not only because of our close connection with the people of Papua New Guinea. The bilum conveys a strong message about what we are trying to achieve through this magazine – to carry and communicate the “precious and essential” stories of the people involved in the many projects supported by Mercy Works. Through these projects mercy and justice are woven.

In February this year I travelled to Papua New Guinea, where, not only was I moved by the many faces of poverty experienced by the people, but also the remarkable energy and commitment of those who work in projects funded by Mercy Works.

My journey took me to Kiunga in the remote Western Province, where Sisters Maureen Sexton and Cathy Corbett are working with West Papuan refugees living in Kiunga and on the Fly River.

In Wewak, the capital of the East Sepik Province, I spent some days with Sister Kaye Bolwell and the young women currently in the Mercy Education Project. At Goroka, in the Eastern Highlands Province, where Sisters Gaye Lennon, Theresia Boyek, Maryanne Kolkia and Robina Einde work in the Mercy PNG Project, I was exposed to the
increasing problem of urban poverty.

Since February, reports have arrived from Sister Anila Isaac in Pakistan, with feedback on the slum school in Mughalabad, and from the Notre Dame Institute of Education in Karachi, where Sister Margaret Madden is the Director.

Recently, Mr Charlie Barnett of Rotary Mosman, returned from Timor Leste with news that the Fohorem water project has commenced. Sister Helen Nolen is alive with information about the newly-formed Feto Fitun Fohorem Women’s group, and of the renovation of the building for which Mercy Works provided funding.

In Australia, the Community Links Project in Sydney and Wollongong continues to train and support volunteers who assist refugees as they settle in Australia. The agency is also supporting a pilot project called Classroom Connect, an intensive tutoring and mentoring programme for refugee students entering the mainstream school system.

As I reflect on the activities of Mercy Works, several insights emerge. The projects we support are addressing, in no small way, aspects of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). You will remember that in 2000, 189 countries, including Australia, signed the Millennium Declaration which aimed to halve world poverty by 2015. From this declaration came the eight MDGs:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV-AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development.

Grounded in Gospel values and inspired by Catherine McAuley, Mercy Works is committed to effecting transformation. As you read about our projects in the pages that follow, may you be amazed by what is unfolding. The future of the agency is dependant on galvanising partners who are committed to making a difference. We need you to be committed with us in effecting this transformation.

Blessings to you all.

Rosemary Carroll RSM, Executive Officer

From the EO of Mercy Works Inc.

The pages of this edition of The Bilum are filled to the brim with the stories of the activities of a year in the life of Mercy Works Inc. As we thumb the pages, it is evident that responses made have been an outcome of the voiced needs of the people.

Let’s listen to some of the cries for help that have been heard, and to which responses have been made.

A group of elders walked from a remote mountain village outside Goroka in Papua New Guinea’s Highlands to the drop-in centre of Mercy Works PNG to ask for support to bring about change in their village. These villagers acknowledged that they did not have the skills to effect the necessary change. They named domestic violence, male domination of women, HIV-AIDS, the prevalence of school truancy and youth crime as major issues needing to be addressed.

The response of our Mercy women was to go to this remote village, to listen to the people, and to put in place the support requested.

In Timor Leste, the people of Fohorem approached Mercy Works Inc. to help them address the issue of infant and maternal mortality in their community by assisting them to reconstruct their hospital torched by pro-Indonesian militias in 1999. As The Bilum goes to print, the good news is that the Government’s Ministry of Health in Dili has approved the building application and the needs of the people will be addressed following the pending wet season.

The Aboriginal elders from the north coast of NSW have asked for support to assist them as they guide their children through the often difficult transition from primary to secondary school. Mercy Works Inc. has agreed to work with the elders on this issue.

Similar stories abound in other projects funded by Mercy Works Inc.

Pakistan continues to be a country in crisis with its people fighting for survival. Education is paramount in providing opportunities for change. Mercy Works Inc. is committed to supporting education in this troubled country.

To the many people who have financially supported Mercy Works Inc. this year, and who therefore have enabled the projects to be funded, our deep thanks. We need your commitment and support in 2010. Please continue to walk with us.

In her book, Tender Courage, Joanna Regan, a Sister of Mercy from the United States, writes: “Catherine [McAuley] connected the rich with the poor, the healthy to the sick, the educated and skilled to the uninstructed, the influential to those of no consequence and the powerful to the weak.” Surely this statement reflects the heart of Mercy Works Inc.

Rosemary Carroll RSM
Executive Officer

From the EO of Mercy Works Inc.

In her words of introduction in the June 2009 edition of The Bilum, Mercy Works Inc. Executive Officer, Sister Rosie Carroll RSM, encourages readers "to reflect on the issues raised and take action in whatever way is appropriate for you".

On World Refugee Day last year, the United Nation’s Refugee Agency reported there were 11.4 million refugees living outside their country of origin, and 26 million people displaced within their own country.

Conflict or human rights violations are the main reasons why people are forced to flee their homes, but extreme poverty, food shortages, natural disasters, disease, changes to land use, and the effects of climate change are also fuelling the displacement of people worldwide.

The UNHCR’s figures are staggering, but they don’t account for the people who have been displaced since June 2008. The impact of the global economic crisis will have only exacerbated the situation and it is likely to have unearthed a new set of people previously not on the move.

Recently, the Australian media has been filled with news about the tragic explosion of a boat carrying Afghan asylum seekers off Australia’s north-west coast. In the letters-to-the-editor pages of our national newspapers, we read comments such as: “illegal immigrants”, “people smugglers”, “possible terrorists” and “return asylum seekers”. Nestled among these were other more sensitive sentiments such as: “open our hearts”, “dispel myths and create a more accurate and compassionate picture”, “humanitarian judgement” and “the global issue of displaced people”.

Let us hope that the politics of fear which dominated our national agenda in recent years do not resurface. In such situations, our capacity to be compassionate, just and wise global citizens needs to be constantly challenged.

In this edition of The Bilum, a theme filtering through a number of the stories is that of displacement. There are stories about refugees who are being assisted as they resettle in Australia.

We find out about an innovative music programme that is addressing disadvantage and high suicide rates among young Indigenous Australians. It’s a disturbing fact that Indigenous Australians suffer greater disadvantage and higher suicide rates than non-Indigenous Australians. I believe this disadvantage is related to Indigenous people’s displacement from their land and a disconnection from their language and culture.

We are reminded about the plight of West Papuan refugees who have been living in exile along the Fly River in Papua New Guinea (PNG) with little access to heath and education services for nearly 30 years.

We also learn, that due to high levels of poverty in PNG’s rural and remote areas, significant numbers of people continue to move to urban areas like Goroka, to find employment and access services. Tragically, this rapid movement of people has impacted on urban communities, causing an escalation in poverty, unemployment, violence and crime.

The global economic crisis is affecting us all, but it is vulnerable people who suffer most. As we approach World Refugee Day on June 20, let us be aware of the individuals and families in our global community who have been displaced or are at risk of displacement.

As you read the articles that follow, I encourage you to reflect on the issues raised and take action in whatever way is appropriate for you. It may be through prayer, becoming more informed, making a donation, or simply passing on a copy of The Bilum to someone you know.

Thank you for your continued support of Mercy Works Inc. and blessings on all our Mercy endeavours.

Rosemary Carroll RSM, Executive Officer

From the EO of Mercy Works Inc.

Mercy is the "gift of the impossible chance", says Sister Rosemary Carroll, Executive Officer of Mercy Works Inc., in her words of introduction for the December edition of "The Bilum".

Photo: Anila Isaac RSM, Co-ordinator of the Mughalabd Project in Pakistan with Rosie Carroll RSM, Executive Officer Mercy Works Inc.

Each year the United Nations Development Programme (UN DP) produces a Human Development Report which lists the overall well-being of countries worldwide according to levels of life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living.

In the 2007-08 report, the countries where Mercy Works supports projects were ranked as follows: out of 177 countries, Timor Leste was ranked 150; Kenya, 148; Papua New Guinea, 145; Pakistan, 136; and Peru, 87. In stark contrast, Australia was ranked third.

Mahbub ul Haq, founder of the Human Development Report, reminds us that “the basic purpose of development is to enlarge people’s choices and to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives”.

In considering the country rankings and Mahbub ul Haq’s most basic requirements for human well-being, one can only be inspired by the transformations that are taking place among the people and communities supported by Mercy Works.

Maternal and child health issues are being addressed in Kiunga and along the Fly River in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea, and in 2009, it is anticipated that a maternal health and child programme will be established in the mountainous area of Fohorem in Timor Leste.

Issues of women’s health are becoming known. When the Mercy Works PNG Project recently hosted an education event to coincide with the International Day of Action for Women’s Health, over 1,200 people came to learn about cervical cancer. Some of these participants were men.

The promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women is a significant outcome of many of the projects supported by Mercy Works and there is a growing awareness among communities that violence against women and children is unacceptable.

Some of the projects are offering support and training to young men and boys as they are confronted with the loss of cultural identity and an inability to lead productive, creative lives in accord with their needs and interests.

Advancing educational opportunities is at the heart of all projects supported by Mercy Works. This involves students at elementary and secondary schools, and teacher training opportunities. Some projects provide training opportunities in drug awareness and the development of life skills.

Australia’s ranking at number three in the Human Development Report acknowledges that we are a fortunate country. But all is not well here. This ranking disguises the disturbing reality for Indigenous Australians, where life expectancy is 17 years less than non-Indigenous Australians.

It also fails to recognise the plight of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia.

The stories included in this edition of The Bilum show the commitment and energy of those involved in projects supported by Mercy Works. Environments are changing and there is hope that the well-being and dignity of all people is being realised.

It is true that Mercy is the “gift of the impossible new chance” (Tony Kelly CSsR).

Blessings to you all.

Rosemary Carroll RSM, Executive Officer