Sr. Marilyn Lacey is no stranger to serving the poor and helping the destitute. After all, she resettled refugees in the States for over two decades. The transition to help women and children abroad, though, came with a startling realization.
“Over 99% of those who need assistance are in fact, not refugees coming to the West,” says Sr. Marilyn, “but those who are still living in poverty in their home countries.”
So in 2008, Sr. Marilyn founded Mercy Beyond Borders (MBB), a non-profit organization “forging ways for women and girls in extreme poverty to learn, connect and lead.” In January 2016, MBB will also take on the role as WOVIN’s new non-profit partner, benefiting directly from all donations made.
How It All Started
In 1992 Sr Marilyn spent time inside South Sudan, witnessing unspeakable devastation that she says “shook her to the core.” After writing her memoir, This Flowing Toward Me, in 2007 she was able to turn her attention full-time to addressing the women and girls who survived that long civil war.
In the beginning, MBB focused its efforts solely on the war-torn South Sudan. Later in 2012 (following the devastating earthquake in 2010) MBB expanded to Haiti, providing scholarships and boarding lodges for its young female students.
“The organization works with women and girls,” Sr. Marilyn says. “Our primary goal of education naturally evolved into programs for leadership training and advocacy opportunities.”
The Impact of MBB Today
Currently, MBB supports St. Bakhita’s, the first and only all-girls primary school in South Sudan. The organization also funds high school and college scholarship programs for promising young women, annual leadership training for its scholars, weekly radio broadcasts promoting girls’ education, and micro-enterprise with women.
One of MBB’s programs is a one-year internship for girls wanting to become nurses. The girls learn practical, hands-on skills from an experienced RN at a rural clinic. At the end of the program, MBB sends exceptional interns to the nursing college of their choice in South Sudan.
In a country where, as Sr. Marilyn puts it, “women are valued less than cows,” these small developments have a huge impact, in terms of both opportunity and self-confidence.
Four Facts About Sudan
- Gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after a long war
- The newest country in the world
- With over 60% of the population under 24 years old, is one of the “youngest” countries
- The highest maternal mortality rate in the world
Aside from schooling and scholarships, MBB also facilitates micro-enterprise loans to groups of rural women, helping these women start businesses. Profits then send their children to school, rebuild their huts, provide food for their families, and pay for medicine.
The organization broadcasts a weekly radio program promoting women’s education and gender equality in South Sudan. The show features interviews with young girls, MBB scholars, parents, teachers, and government officials.
It’s clear that MBB’s programs transcend just education. MBB’s alumnae network of graduates, for example, fosters community and cultivates connection. By connecting scholars it breaks down traditional tribal barriers that divide the country.
Lasting, Local Change
What sets this program apart from others is the emphasis on creating lasting change in South Sudan. In 2014 MBB’s first cohort of twelve women graduated as nurses and teachers (and one IT professional!). All of the graduates are now employed in South Sudan. There is “no brain drain,” says Sr. Marilyn.
Currently there is one student, Sr. Marilyn shares, who is pursuing a civil engineering degree. The grand total for four years of education? About $12,000.
MBB currently supports over 1,000 girls in primary schools, 240 more on high school and college scholarships, 100 women entrepreneurs, and another 120 in adult literacy classes.
Examples of Costs
- $100/year for day students
- $250-$300/year for boarders
- $500/year for high school students
- $3,000/year university
Paskalina is a Sudanese woman benefitting from an MBB business loan. She’s a widow living with HIV who is also confined to a wheelchair (having had polio as a child) and has six children whom she cares for on her own. In a country where being a woman and having a disability are looked down upon, Paskalina remains optimistic. She’s a magnetic and influential woman, and others look up to her.
“She told me,” Marilyn says: “I’m focused on my business, not my sickness.”
It makes sense that Paskalina spearheaded one of MBB’s micro-enterprise programs in her village. The other women Paskalina invited to the group were all HIV-positive women as well, and the group, due to her natural and effective leadership, is thriving.
The financial and intrinsic benefits (such as confidence and community) were further supplemented by health ones. What Paskalina and the others on anti-retroviral medications found was that the drugs sent from the United States only work well with proper nutrition. As the women improved their finances and lives, their health improved, too; the medications began to actually work as they were meant to!
Today, along with just one other full-time employee in Santa Clara and a handful of local staff in South Sudan and Haiti, Sr. Marilyn runs the entire MBB operation.
“We have wonderful donors across the U.S.,” Sr. Marilyn explains, “and a strong concentration in the Bay Area.”
Sr. Marilyn visits both South Sudan and Haiti every year, and often will engage in public speaking events around the Bay Area. Learn more about the organization on their website at www.mercybeyondborders.org, and contribute to their programs by donating to WOVIN starting January 2016 (50% of the proceeds will go directly to Mercy Beyond Borders).