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Number 164 - June 2016
In June, our attention is drawn to several issues of global importance. The United Nations marks a day for child victims of aggression (4 June) and surely related to this, World Refugee Day (20 June). Similarly, World Environment Day is followed by a day to combat desertification and drought. The recent World Humanitarian Summit also highlighted the concerns raised by increasing numbers of forcibly displaced people, gender inequality and environmental degradation.
These themes evoke thoughts of people on the move, especially women and children. Their needs are of particular concern to MMMs and Associates. In this newsletter you can read about another cross-cutting population on the move: the victims of human trafficking. Our Sisters and Associates can vouch for the fact that being trafficked does not occur in isolation, but is the culmination of many significant experiences.
We describe the challenges of moving on in mission in Brazil, as well as an apparent coincidence that prompted a special appreciation for those who work with us.
We like to celebrate successes and a recent one involved two of our wonderful supporters, Gay and Keith Talbot. They have given generously to services for women affected by obstetrical fistula and to the education of our MMM students. They told us that on 13 May, their son Nick became the first person with cystic fibrosis to climb Mount Everest.
Keith emphasised that his son's aim was to ‘raise awareness of cystic fibrosis and to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.’ (See the article in The Telegraph, 17 May 2016, by Harry Yorke and Sophie Jamieson.) Pictured left, Nick tells the world that we must win the fight against cystic fibrosis.
No doubt Nick has climbed even more daunting peaks in his lifetime. We join his proud (and relieved) parents in congratulating him in all his triumphs. Their generosity, like that of all our other supporters, has enabled us to help countless others climb mountains. On their behalf, we thank you.
Sr. Carol Breslin, MMM
'All-powerful God, fill us with peace that we may live as sisters and brothers, harming no one. O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.
'Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth. Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace' (from Laudato Si).
An adventure in faith and hope
In our March 2016 e-newsletter, Sister Nilza dos Santos wrote about the experience of leaving Capim Grosso, Brazil, where MMM had had a presence for over twenty-six years. Issues of consolidation led to a decision to hand over our ministries and move closer to our Sisters in Salvador. Sisters Gladys Dimaku and Sheila Campbell are working among an urban population there.
Nilza and Sister Itoro Etokakpan did much of the research to find another house. Now, with the blessing of the MMM Congregation, they are the pioneers of our newest mission. This time Itoro has told us about the beginnings in Geolândia.
‘It all began last year when we decided as a community to open a new mission in Brazil. Acknowledging the fragility of our MMM mission there, we hoped that a new ministry would bring new life and opportunities for growth. In August and September 2015, Sister Nilza and I visited eight very poor rural parishes that had no religious communities. These were in two dioceses: Camaçari and the Archdiocese of São Salvador, where we already have a house.
‘After lots of reflection, we recommended that the parish of São João Batista, in the Archdiocese of São Salvador, be the new home for MMM. It is part of the small town of Cabaceiras do Paraguaçu. Our house is in Geolândia, one of twenty-one parish outstations. We were delighted when the Congregation blessed this new beginning. It is an area that lacks basic necessities such as education and health care.
‘Cabeceiras do Paraguaçu is in the east of the State of Bahia, 160 km from Salvador, about two and a half hours by car. Its population is 17,327 (National Census, 2010). With a semi-arid climate, the main sources of income are small subsistence farming, work with the local government, and fishing, because the town is located on the Paraguaçu River.’
Sent off two by two ‘On 19 February 2016, Nilza and I set off from Salvador for São João Batista. We had decided it would be too late for Gladys and Sheila to come with us and then drive safely back to Salvador the same night. On the journey, heavy rain brought thunder. Flashes of lightning passed through our car and we felt we had gone to God! When it was over, we looked at each other: nothing had happened to us or the car. We were very grateful to God and to you who have been praying for us.
‘We knew our house would not be ready on moving day and we were deeply touched by the number of people of varying ages who came to help us clean it. When we arrived, we found that the children were helping to paint it. João Carlos, the man in charge of the repairs, told us he chose blue and white - the colours of Our Lady. We felt that nothing happens by chance. Our new home is dedicated to Nossa Senhora de Aparecida (Our Lady of Aparecida), Patroness of Brazil. We had carried an image of her with us, our first gift for our new home from Sister Nilza’s mother.
‘We were officially welcomed on Sunday, 21 February, during two lively Masses, one in Geolândia and the other in the main parish church. The parish priest, Father Jurandir da Silva Paz, quoted Pope Francis, saying that “every Christian is a missionary by virtue of baptism,” and that he and the entire parish were very happy to welcome their “two sisters in faith”.
‘He said there was a need to work with the youth, in vocation animation and in the empowerment of women and asked the people to help Sisters Nilza and Itoro in this journey. ‘I said that MMM would work with them in whatever way possible to build the kingdom of God together. First we will visit the homes and communities and get to know each other.’
A warm welcome ‘We have received so much food from the people, who have been generous to us in many other ways. We sometimes joke that our first challenge will be to return the empty food containers to their rightful owners! This has been a time of appreciating what we have each day. We have learned not to sleep so deeply when it rains at night because we need to run to our sitting room to see what needs to be shifted before it gets wet!’ For the future ‘We plan to live in the local community and participate in church activities, while continuing to identify needs through a needs assessment exercise. We want to share our healing charism with the people of Cabaceiras do Paraguaçu in “ways that are fresh and relevant in today’s realities” (MMM Chapter, 2015). We also want this new mission to be an expression of a “simple life style, to be in solidarity with and empower the poor, the powerless and the marginalized” (ibid).
‘Living nearer to our house in Salvador and in a rural area will be an opportunity to have a more supportive community. We especially thank the Congregational Leadership Team and are very grateful to all our supporters in this adventure in faith. We pray that the Holy Spirit will guide and direct us.’
People on the move
Sister Margaret Anne Meyer is based in City Island, New York. She recently attended a conference that highlighted the issue of trafficking in persons. While she shared her thoughts from the perspective of someone living in a major trafficking destination, it is important to note that trafficking need not involve crossing borders. It can occur within countries.
‘I arrived at Grand Central Station on 9 February 2016 and saw untold crowds of people. I wondered if any of them could be involved in human trafficking and forced labour.
‘Soon I was at the United Nations for an event sponsored by the Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking, hosted by Belarus. Remarks by the President of the General Assembly, the UN Secretary General, the President of the Security Council and others, confirmed that this terrible abuse is found in every country. Each year about thirty million men, women and children are abducted against their will or lured under false promises of a job or education into forced labour and/or prostitution. Profits are lucrative, reaching 150 billion dollars a year.
‘It was disheartening to hear nineteen countries report how trafficking is still rampant. Laws are in place but police are bribed and turn away. All stated that prevention, prosecution, protection of the victims, and partnership with other civil-minded groups would help in its elimination.
‘I was so proud of our MMM Sisters worldwide, who are doing their utmost to raise the status of women and children. Our efforts to promote family life and reduce violence help people not to be caught in this vicious web. A Sister of Mercy, Áine O'Connor, a UN NGO member, said that empowering women with sustainable skills at home was the only way to deter them from seeking what seems to be a better life elsewhere.
‘Mira Sorvino, a well-known actress and a UN good will ambassador, issued a final plea: “Do not walk out of this meeting saying it was very interesting and not having any intention to do something to help eradicate this atrocity. Walk out of here with a mission and take this fire with you. Go out of here with the souls of millions in your hearts.”'
The background Human trafficking is the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them. A country may be a point of origin, transit and/or destination for victims. The 2014 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), found victims from 152 nationalities in 124 countries.
In the report, sexual exploitation was by far the most commonly identified form of human trafficking (79%), followed by forced labour (18%). Other forms of exploitation are domestic servitude and forced marriage; organ removal; and the exploitation of children in begging, the sex trade and warfare.
Women and girls make up 70% of detected trafficking victims worldwide. Former victims may become perpetrators to escape their own victimisation. Alarmingly, the proportion of children among detected victims is increasing: one in three is a child and two out of every three children trafficked are girls.
A major challenge is the ratification and effective implementation of the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.
(Statistics cover the period 2010-2012 and are taken from the Global Report on Trafficking in People, 2014. Other information was found on the UNODC website.)
How can this happen? Trafficking is not a once-off event. The experience of many MMMs, Associates and groups with which we work supports the conclusion that women and girls are especially vulnerable to trafficking and other forms of exploitation as a cumulative result of many experiences of discrimination.
Our use of language, including liturgical language, often reinforces attitudes and an understanding of women and the feminine as weak and inferior. This includes portraying God as exclusively masculine.
In 2012, Sister Joan Melinn, based in Fuka, northern Nigeria, wrote, ‘At our mission we go to neighbouring villages. We became aware that the female child was not treated as equal to the male child. She would be getting married so there was no need to spend money feeding or educating her. Husbands abused their wives for delivering only female children. Wife battering was common.’
Nevertheless, the results of a behavioural change programme in Fuka showed that attitudes can be transformed. A couple were seen to quarrelling and the husband threatened to beat his wife. Two men who had attended the workshop intervened and said, ‘That is not the way anymore. Let us sit down and discuss the problem and find a solution together.’
Unequal education opportunities While the illiterate population worldwide has steadily fallen, data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics show that two-thirds of the adult illiterate population are women (479 million).
Among young people, female literacy rates have been growing and the gender gap is decreasing, but three out of five young people lacking basic reading and writing skills are girls. In some countries literacy rates for young women are persistently low. These include South Sudan (30%) and Benin (31%) (UNESCO eAtlas of Literacy).
Sr. Stella Nwoye, on mission in Angola, has seen the effects of a 27-year civil war, during which ‘many families were torn apart. Provinces like Huambo were used as a war front.’ She described some of the barriers many young women face in completing basic education. They are prevented from achieving their potential and there are negative consequences for their families as well.
‘I feel the greatest challenge in Huambo today is teenage pregnancy. A 13-year-old girl walks into the clinic and says, “I am pregnant.” The boy responsible will be 15 to 18 years old. The burden of care usually falls on the girl’s parents. Afterwards, the boy comes to claim the child. What an abuse!
‘The girl is forced to drop out of school and cannot support herself. She is often a victim of domestic violence because if she eventually lives with the boy, he will not marry her, will not allow her to study, and will eventually find other women outside the relationship. Some of the children end up on the street, addicted to alcohol, and involved in crime.’
Lack of access to health care The maternal mortality ratio in developing countries in 2015 was 239 per 100,000 live births, versus 12 per 100,000 live births in developed countries. The high number of maternal deaths in some areas reflects inequities in access to health services, and highlights the gap between rich and poor, and women in rural versus urban areas. More than half of maternal deaths occur in fragile and humanitarian settings.
All pregnant women need access to antenatal care, skilled care during childbirth, and support in the weeks after childbirth. Most problems are preventable or treatable so timely management makes the difference between life and death for mother and baby.
In low-income countries, only 40% of pregnant women have the recommended antenatal visits and only 51% benefit from skilled care during childbirth (UN Fact sheet N°348).
Sister Maura Lynch has been working in Uganda for over 20 years. At Kitovu Hospital she performs life-changing operations to treat obstetric fistula and organises programmes to train others. These services are provided in ‘camps’, organized several times a year.
She commented, ‘Today birth injuries should not occur because all are preventable...Yet in Uganda the most recent surveys quoted 142,000 sufferers from fistula – mostly VVF with 5% RVF as well. Some 10% also have sciatic nerve damage resulting in “dropped foot”, or inability to raise one or both feet in walking.
‘We are planning to increase our camps from 4 to 6 [per year] to try to clear the backlog. There are still many women in rural areas unaware that their disability is curable. They hide and suffer great isolation and degradation.’
In sub-Saharan Africa, a number of countries have halved their maternal mortality since 1990 (UN Fact sheet N°348). So change is possible and we can do more.
The experience of violence Globally, adolescent girls and young women (15-24 years) are at twice the risk of HIV infection as boys and young men in the same age group. The higher risk is associated with unsafe and often unwanted and forced sexual activity. Recent figures indicate that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Increasingly, sexual violence is used as a tactic of war (UN Fact sheet N°334). Women are disproportionately affected in conflict situations.
Sister Mary O’Malley, based in Kenya, works in a project to prevent trafficking in persons and assist victims. She has experienced at first hand the consequences of gender discrimination affecting girls and women. The following is just one illustration of inequities in access to literacy and health care and of exposure to violence.
‘Rukia (not her real name) was born in a sprawling slum on the outskirts of Nairobi, the second of two girls. After completing Standard Eight, she continued living with her mother and helped to sell vegetables. She had reasonably good marks but her mother could not afford secondary school.
‘She married and had two children but her husband was unfaithful. He currently lives with another woman.
'Her mother now had three others to feed. In cramped conditions, the children lay under the vegetable racks at night. Rukia put cardboard under them to keep them warm and prevent dampness. Trying to cope in a space 6’ x 4’, it seemed like heaven when a friend told her of a better opportunity elsewhere.
‘She went to Saudi Arabia. There she worked excessively long hours, ate leftover food and slept in a room the size of a ‘walk-in’ wardrobe. Temperatures hovered at 40° C. She ran away two months later and was taken to the police. She could not speak Arabic and had no identification. The family came and took her to the airport, returning her to Nairobi. She said, “I was dumped there at 3 a.m. Thank God I knew the city and found my way back to my mother and children.”
‘Rukia's problems had not gone away. She bought some ladies’ dresses and sold them for a small profit with Ksh 300 (3.5 Euro) that her mother gave her. She was very relieved when a friend told her about a project for victims of trafficking at Majengo. When we first saw her, she was very traumatized.
‘Rukia only wanted to increase her capacity to sell second-hand clothes to support her family. With the assistance we gave her, she has moved into a bigger room and shortly will be able to afford the monthly rent.’
In too many countries and situations, women and girls experience discrimination. Is it any wonder that they are lured by promises of a better life by unscrupulous profiteers? Let us work, not just to end the evils of trafficking and its consequences, but its underlying causes.
Did someone say ‘retired’?
Sister Helen Aherne may have retired in the sense of returning from her long-time beloved home in Uganda, but not in the sense of receiving 'the golden handshake' or stopping work. Now based in our Motherhouse in Drogheda, one of Helen’s roles is contact person with our MMM Associates in Ireland. She recently wrote about something that initially seemed to be an interesting coincidence.
‘Last week I picked up an MMM magazine, published in 2004. It contained stories and news items contributed by the Sisters and I found an article I had written. I was in Masaka, Uganda, where I had just started a pastoral ministry in our local village, Bwala. My funding for the work came from MMM donors and the Irish government.
'I had just met a young woman called Mersiana* who was struggling to raise her family of two boys and a girl, all under eight years of age. The girl was about three. Her husband had left her and had started another family not far away. She came to an Al Anon Group I had helped to start because she saw her neighbours meeting and was lonely. Very soon she told me she “was sick” and I knew it was the dreaded AIDS because this was the way people told us.
‘My community members helped me to get her all the treatments available. Sister Carla Simmons, a doctor, was working with an MMM non-government program. Sister Helen Delaney got her into a food and nutrition programme. Sadly, Mersiana did not respond. She died in Oct 2003.'
‘I will not leave you orphaned’ (Jn 14:18 NRSV). ‘The boys were heartbroken. The girl was too young to understand. Mersiana’s mother took the baby and I decided to try to educate the boys. The eldest was Eliye*. He was in Primary 6 but had dropped out of school to look after his mother. He had missed out on the whole year. The younger boy, Bishara*, was in Primary 4 and spoke some English. The head teacher said Eliye could just move into Primary 7 and get his School Certificate. This he did but he did not do as well as I thought he should. He had no English and never spoke it.
‘Time passed and they moved into Masaka Senior Secondary, where Eliye blossomed. Nevertheless, when he did O Levels his teacher advised me he should not go any further. He wanted to be a nurse or “something medical”. He got into the School of Medical Science in Kitovu Hospital and got a laboratory assistant certificate. This took three years. So he was now a teenager. He continued to stay very close to me and to my community, who helped to look after both brothers if they were sick and I was not around.
‘Meanwhile the younger boy, Bishara, turned out to be brilliant. He was always first or second in his class, even in secondary school, and went on to do A Levels (Leaving Certificate). He got a very good result. He was always the one who interpreted for me in speaking to Mersiana at the beginning. Mersiana knew this and was so proud of him. When he finished school, Bishara wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps and go into medicine. While he did not get a place in college, he did get into a private school of medicine to study to be a clinical officer. This is a three-year course and is really clinical medicine. It is a very good one because he can continue to upgrade to medical doctor in the future. He will always have a job.'
Our friends will never be forgotten. ‘Right now Eliye is on the government register and works near Masaka. He has done further study of antiretroviral treatment and care. He is married and has twin girls, about two years old. His wife has a shop in a container in Masaka, where she sells phones.
‘Bishara always worked during school holidays to raise part of his school fees. This helped him to work hard. I think this will stay with him all through his life. He graduated as a clinical officer early this year.
'I was able to help others, such as Moses*, to get an education so they could support themselves.
‘Around 2004, I wrote the article to thank our donors. Seeing how well these young men have done, I want to thank them again, tell them how they helped the boys, and remind them about a great gift they have given. I thank God and our supporters, who helped them to have an education, a full and happy life, and be good citizens of Uganda.
‘Was it just coincidence that I came across this article right now? I am now at a different stage of my life, living in the Motherhouse in Drogheda. Not retired because Sisters never retire! I have plenty to do, but these lovely memories will always be with me. My prayer is of thanksgiving for our friends for all they have enabled us to do for the good of our sisters and brothers.’
*Not their real names
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