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Students Raise Funds, Awareness for Mercy Focus on Haiti

July 15, 2020

By Sister Mary Sullivan

Catherine McAuley believed that “no work of charity can be more productive of good to society or more conducive to the happiness of the poor than the careful instruction of women” (Original Mercy Rule, Chapter 2, art. 5). Embracing her conviction, Mercy secondary schools in the Americas seek to make that merciful mission a reality, as evidenced in the lives of their graduates.

Recently, I experienced three examples of that reality in three young women who graduated in June 2020 from Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women, in Rochester, New York: Ava, Emma and Natalya. Let me tell you their inspiring stories.

Mercy School requires that each student accomplish a senior capstone requirement: completion of a personal motto project inspired by the school’s motto—“via, veritas, et vita” (the Gospel invitation to follow Jesus’ way, truth, and life)—and directly related to one of the Critical Concerns of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas: the care of women and children, the promotion of nonviolence and peace, the protection of Earth and its created life, immigration and the abolition of racism in all its forms and effects.

In Summer 2019, I offered to mentor any 2019-2020 Mercy seniors who wished to join their motto projects to the ministry of Mercy Focus on Haiti (MFOH), of which I am a member. Ava Clarcq, Emma Magioncalda and Natalya Denis got in touch with me, and thus their projects began.

Ava understood the empowering effects of a good early education for very poor children like those in northern Haiti. She learned about Jesus and Mary Primary School (Pre K-6) in Gros Morne, operated by the Religious of Jesus and Mary, with whom MFOH collaborates. She also learned about the Chemin Lavi Miyo (CLM) program—Pathway to a Better Life—which MFOH funds in the Gros Morne sector of Haiti where the school is located.

This 18-month program enables “ultra-poor” families (living on $1.25 a day or less) to slowly raise themselves out of their extreme poverty. By the end of the program, the family has a better one-room hut home with a tin roof; everyone in the family has food every day (in the past they did not); and their children are recovering from malnutrition and wish to go to school. The yearly tuition per child that is needed at Jesus and Mary School is $125, but the CLM families can barely afford to pay $25.

Therefore, Ava decided that she wanted to join MFOH in raising the additional $100 tuition per child for as many young CLM girls as possible. She sponsored a movie night and had an additional fundraiser. In the end, she raised $200, which she donated to MFOH for tuition for two young Haitian girls to attend Jesus and Mary Primary School. She was very happy with her project, and I was proud of her merciful commitment and accomplishment.

Emma wanted to help more women-led, ultra-poor families to have the benefits of participating in the Pathway to a Better Life program. She could not imagine the difficulty of any family’s trying to live on $1.25 a day (which is how ultra-poor is defined), and she wanted to help enable another poor Haitian woman to achieve self-esteem and confidence in her own and her family’s future.

So she sponsored a dance-a-thon to raise money for the Pathway program. (Fortunately, I did not have to dance!) She charged $13 at the door and raised $325. She contributed this to MFOH as part of the cost of the program ($2,000) for one ultra-poor Haitian woman and her family. I was touched by Emma’s merciful solidarity with Haitian women who experience extreme poverty in ways she has never known.

Natalya also wanted to assist, as best she could, the families and children who had participated in the CLM/Pathway program. She knew these young children were now able to have food every day, not just occasionally, and that they were now gaining physical strength and wanted to go to school. She also knew that she had enjoyed the lifelong benefit of good schooling, and she wanted somehow to share that with children in Haiti. Therefore, she wanted to raise money for the additional tuition needed ($100 per child) to allow as many CLM children as possible to attend the primary school in Gros Morne.

Natalya’s parish priest said that he could not allow her to make a direct appeal to the people of her parish, even with my advocacy, because he had too many other requests. So Natalya made and sold bracelets, started a Go-Fund-Me page and wrote a direct appeal in the newsletter of the Mercy Associates in the Rochester area. In the end, she raised $500 and caused another $2,045 to be directly donated to MFOH as a result of her newsletter appeal. Her total of $2,545 will now allow 25 (!) children to attend Jesus and Mary Primary School in Gros Morne, Haiti—wonderful young children she will probably never meet, but already loves.

So Catherine McAuley was right! “No work of charity is more productive or good to society or more conducive to the happiness of the poor than the careful instruction of women”—including all the young women and young men whom Mercy secondary schools seek to inspire and guide in the ways of merciful living.

In early June 2020, and because of the social distancing the COVID-19 pandemic requires, I met each of these, now face-masked young women in an empty nearby parking lot. There ,each gave me her hard-earned donation for the Haitian women and children she has come to love. It was a sunny day in every respect as I tried to thank them on behalf of Mercy Focus on Haiti.

Ava, Emma and Natalya—as grateful as I was and am for their merciful collaboration— are simply representative of the thousands of Mercy graduates each year who “get it,” and who then go forth into their worlds mindful of humanity’s critical needs and of their own call to merciful understanding and action.

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