A COMMUNITY TAKES ACTION

By Judy Walter:

About 7 km outside Mombasa City, the informal settlement called Bangladesh is home to about 55,000 residents.  This is a community which has been neglected by the government, having no public services provided to them.  No water, no sewage or garbage disposal, no roads, no health services, to mention just a few.

In 2007, the Irish Missionary Fathers of St Patrick came to Bangladesh to minister to the needs of this community, founding St Patrick’s Parish.   In 2011 Maryknoll Lay Missioners joined these Missionary Fathers to help address the health needs of the residents in Bangladesh by opening St Patrick’s Dispensary.

Even though most residents live at poverty level, it is a community with a lot of initiative.   St Patrick’s Parish has a very vibrant ministry called Haki Yetu, which deals in Human Rights matters including advocacy for the rights to land and housing by the disadvantaged in society, and in particular those living in informal settlements.

Bangladesh is situated along a very busy highway known as the Mombasa-Nairobi Highway.  Trucks, buses, tractors, minibuses, vans, motorcycles, and cars all race along this highway causing fatal accidents, which were increasing yearly.   The community decided to take action.   Under the leadership of Haki Yetu,  St Patrick’s Parish Council, and the Elders of Bangladesh, the residents developed a plan of action.

In Oct of 2013 they wrote letters to the Police in charge of Traffic Control, and also to the Kenya National Highways Authority (KENHA) informing them that in the last 2 months there were 6 fatalities in the community due to speed and careless driving, and asking that speed bumps be put along the road near the entrance to Bangladesh.  In the letters they informed both that if there were no response to this situation, the community would take action.

The Police Department responded, came and met with the community  and their leaders, giving full support to their initiative.  KENHA requested accident data from the Traffic Base Commander, but no action was taken.   Follow up letters were sent to KENHA.  This correspondence took place over a five month period, from Oct 2013 to March 2014.  On March 15, 2014, a 9 year old boy was killed crossing the road to go to church.  There had now been 15 more deaths since the community started writing to KENHA.  When there was still no response from KENHA 2 weeks after they had notified the office of the death of the 9 year old boy, the community decided it was time to act.  They had the support of the Traffic Control Police.

So on a Monday morning early in April, the whole community turned out for a peaceful demonstration, carrying old cement bags filled with sand and a couple of old water pipes which they laid across the road to stop traffic flow in both directions.  Traffic came to a standstill on the busiest road in Mombasa.  This peaceful demonstration lasted for 2 ½ hours.  The residents were joined by the Chief of Staff of the Senator’s Office to show support.

Within that same week, KENHA responded by placing a series of speed bumps along the highway leading into Bangladesh, so that traffic now moves very slowly up and down this section of the highway.  And I am happy to report there has not been one fatality or road accident in the 6 months since the residents of Bangladesh took action and won their case.

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New family in mission shares their mission story

By Melissa and Peter Altman:

After eight months, we can honestly say that El Salvador has begun to feel like home. We have spent the bulk of these eight months settling in, learning Spanish, and starting our project. We’ve all become much more comfortable in Spanish, although our children Eli and Evey have left their parents in the dust! Both of them are functionally bilingual at this point. Everyone said that the kids would pick it up fast, but it has been amazing to see how quickly they have been able to become completely comfortable in a language that they couldn’t speak at all in December.

Altman children painting

Children in La India proudly display their paintings after a workshop

We have started our ministry in a small rural village called La India which is outside the town of Cojutepeque. There are very few cars on the unpaved streets of La India, but the roads are well used by chickens, goats, cows, and dogs. The homes are modest, many lack running water and electricity and yet the doors are always open to visitors; we have been humbled by the hospitality that people have shown us. Last Saturday, the local people were excited to introduce us to Sopa de Pata, a local favorite whose name translates to “soup of the foot” since the primary ingredients are cow feet and stomach. The broth was delicious, but downing the big pieces of stomach was challenging for all of us (although Pete enjoyed making jokes about having a belly full of belly for the rest of the day). Afterwards, we reflected on how the soup illustrates the typical resourcefulness of poor Salvadorans: if you can’t afford steaks and chops, then learn how to make something delicious out of feet and stomach!

The resourcefulness reflected in the soup is also reflected in the pastoral center that the community recently built in the center of the village. Despite having few resources, the community raised money to buy the materials and then built the center themselves so that they would have a place to gather and pray. We are humbled that we have been invited to use this space to offer educational enrichment, personal development, and recreational opportunities for the under served children and youth of the community. Ours is the only game in town, so if the children are not with us, they are on the streets. The pastor of the parish has shared that our presence in the village as a family is an important sign of hope for the people.

Altman child painting

Melissa and Peter Altman and Geraldo

Recently, we have been offering a workshop in painting for the children of the village. Last week, while we were distributing supplies to the children, we noticed an 11 year-old boy timidly standing outside the center. We introduced ourselves and invited him to participate. Geraldo shared that he was nervous because he had never painted before. We assured him that we would help him learn, so he came in and joined the circle of children working on the floor. When the class was over, Geraldo proudly approached us to show us his completed painting. It turns out that he has a gift for painting. Like so many children in El Salvador, Geraldo has never had the opportunity to explore and develop his unique gifts and talents. Our mission is to provide opportunities for him and the other children of La India to develop their gifts and build their self-esteem. The hope is that offering this support will keep them out of the local gangs and help them be productive members of their community.

Altman children

Eli and Evey with their new friends in La India

The children of La India face the same challenges that have driven so many young people from El Salvador to the doorstep of the U.S. They are challenged by extreme poverty, a broken educational system, the absence of parents, few future prospects, and the violent gangs that often begin to recruit children as young as eight years- old. While we can’t begin to address these complex and daunting societal problems, we know that the programs and opportunities we are offering the children in this small village are a step in the right direction. It has been shown that young people who are engaged in their community are much less likely to try to emigrate to the U.S. or join the gangs.

We consider ourselves blessed to have the opportunity to serve the people of La India and we are grateful for all of the encouragement and support from our friends, family and donors.

Saludos,

Melissa and Peter

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Having a Baby in Mission

by Kim Fischer (Maryknoll Lay Missioner serving in Brazil):

Raising a family in mission can mean many different things. It means you’ll be far from extended family. It means that your main form of communication with those back home gets relegated to Skype, e-mails, and phone calls. It means that your toddler son learns how to leave a video message for “Grawn-pa” earlier than you would ever expect. It means that holidays spent apart equal packages and cards instead of dinners and hugs.

It also means that your family expands. That the people you meet in your new home will reach out to you, they will invite you into their lives, their homes, and take you under their wings. While this never replaces the love between you and your family and friends, it opens you up to a new kind of love.

IMG_3537When my daughter was born in Brazil this past May, so many of our friends here reached out to help. They watched her brother while we were in the hospital. They came bringing diapers, food, blankets, hand-me-downs, shampoo, and their love. Brazil is a country so in love with children, it’s simply beautiful. Every child is a blessing, as strangers tell me every day as we pass in our daily routine.

Having a baby in mission means deciphering medicine instructions in Portuguese and triple checking them online. It means navigating the world of doctors, hospitals, and vaccinations in a second language. It means that one of your postpartum nurses will be surprised when you answer her questions in Portuguese, saying, “they told me you didn’t speak!”

Having a baby in mission means that when the elevator is broken at the train station, the young girl working flags down three burly security men to carry the stroller with the itty bitty baby down the stairs to the platform.

Having a baby in mission means that you simplify all of the baby equipment we are told is necessary. You don’t need a bassinet, and a rocker, and a swing, and a bouncy seat, and a play mat. You do need diapers. Unfortunately, there is no escaping that fact.

Having a baby in mission means you learn and adjust to new cultural norms. I wasn’t expecting to find myself comfortable with breastfeeding in public!

Having a baby in mission means that you will have a herd of new adoptive aunties and uncles to welcome and love your children.

Having a baby in mission means that you’ll have a child with double citizenship, and that her older brother will be bilingual. It means that your children will ask for foods that you don’t know how to cook. They will say words from school that you don’t understand. They will want to play children’s games that you don’t know. But you will learn.

IMG_4531It means that you will be introduced to a whole world that would be invisible to you otherwise. Children open the channels of communication rather quickly, and it’s easy to make connections when you have such a visible (and audible!) common denominator. In my work with refugee women, despite the language barrier of their French to my Portuguese and English, our children connect us. We care about each others’ children. Are they eating, are they sleeping, are you sleeping? We pass along clothes, diapers, advice. In the absence of having our own mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and sisters with us, we form new networks of women helping women.

There is a woman in my exercise class who has never participated in the entire year I’ve been there. She’s quiet and seems to be content with watching everyone else dance. However, one night while someone else was holding my daughter so I could run the session, I needed a break. I offered to hold Celeste’s infant son in case she wanted to dance. She didn’t sit down again that night! All it took was the connection from one parent to another, and the offer of help.

Raising a family in mission has its challenges. But the joy of watching my children grow in another culture, incorporating that culture’s values into their own, broadening their comfort levels and expanding their worlds, is simply a privilege. I love being able to work for something I believe in alongside my husband, and sharing that with our kids makes it all worthwhile.

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Church Talk, August 16-17

Speaker: Debbie Northern MKLM

Location: 219 E Rockwood Blvd,
Terre Haute IN

Pastor: Fr. Edmund Goldbach

Masses: Saturday 5:30pm
Sunday 8:30 and 11:00 am

Website: Click here

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Recruitment Gathering in LA

Church Talk. July 19-20

 

Location: 65 third St,
East Greenwich, RI
Pastor: Rev. Bernard A. Healey

Masses: Saturday at 5:00 pm
Sunday at 7:30, 9:00, 10:30 am and 5:00 pm

Speaker: Erik Cambier (MKLM)

Website: Click here

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