Lay Mission Office News - February 2013

New staff person joins LMO

By Mary Olenick
Lay Mission Office

We are very happy to introduce our newest member to the Lay Mission Office team…Carolyn Doyle. She brings a variety of gifts and fresh ideas with her….when you throw all that in the pot with Mary and Sylvia, stir it up, you can be sure something out of this world will be brewing!!! Carolyn's main task is to research and develop a one-year short-term mission commitment with Scarboro Missions.

Welcome aboard Carolyn!

By Carolyn Doyle
Short Term Mission Program Coordinator
Lay Mission Office

Hello! I am pleased to be joining Scarboro Missions’ Lay Mission Office as the Short-term Mission Coordinator! I was born and raised in Toronto and attended Blessed Sacrament elementary school and Loretto Abbey high school. I hold a Masters in Public Policy from the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Arts from St. Francis Xavier University. I come from a large family with one sister, two brothers, two great parents and an enthusiastic labradoodle. I was first drawn to international work after hearing a man from Southern Africa speak about the need for funds to build an orphanage in his home country. I was amazed to hear of the reality of HIV and AIDS in his country and the toll it was taking on families. I was surprised to hear that parents living with HIV did not have access to medication that would prolong their lives. As my parents have had (and continue to have) a profound effect on my life, it bothered me that many children do not have the same opportunity. My commitment to social justice was further sparked and I went to Botswana in 2002 to support the response to HIV and AIDS. I have spent nearly seven years living and working in Southern Africa.

Prior to joining the Lay Mission Office at Scarboro Missions, I worked with community-based and national organizations in Southern Africa and Canada. Most recently, I worked at Ashoka Canada where I managed an online competition entitled “Inspiring Approaches to First Nation, Métis and Inuit Learning”. As the Coady International Institute’s first Xtending Hope Partnership Representative in Botswana, I organized overseas mission visits and coordinated and supported the placements of over 20 volunteer placements in the country. I also expanded a peer support program for People Living with HIV and AIDS from Botswana to Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. I look forward to contributing my strong commitment to social justice issues to the Lay Mission Office team.

A Tale of Two Schools

Barbara Michie in front of St. Patrick’s Primary school during renovations. Barbara Michie in front of St. Patrick’s Primary school during renovations.

By Barbara Michie
Scarboro lay missioner in Malawi

The children at St. Patrick's Primary School have some very wonderful and caring friends at St. Philip's Elementary School. They have never met because St Patrick's is in Rumphi, Malawi, and St. Philip's is in Petrolia, Ontario, but their relationship has spanned the last six years.

It began soon after my daughter Erin visited me in Malawi at Christmas in 2005. When we wandered through the primary school grounds not far from where I was teaching at St. Patrick's Seminary, we noticed that most of the buildings were in disrepair, some to the point of being dangerous. There were cracks in walls wide enough to put my hand through, crumbling cement floors, leaking roofs, and gaping holes where windows had once been. We wondered how teachers and students could function in such conditions. The problem stuck in the back of my mind, but I didn't have any idea at the time about what could be done.

Classroom at St. Patrick's Primary School in Malawi after structural repairs Classroom at St. Patrick's Primary School in Malawi after structural repairs

A couple of months later, I received a letter from St. Philip's, asking whether I knew of a project for their mission money that they raise each year during Lent. I thought it could be great for both schools to be sister schools for a while, so I quickly wrote to tell the students at St. Philip's about the condition of the school here in Rumphi. The response was wonderful, and with the enthusiastic guidance of Mrs. Mary Jo Edgar, and the assistance of staff and parents, they soon had help on the way.

When I went to tell Mr. Luhanga, the headmaster of St. Patrick's, he could hardly believe the news. He had been unable to get any maintenance money for the school since he arrived. He said, "Now, God is helping us!"

We sat down with a local builder to figure out what the priorities should be and decided to begin with safety issues, the cracked walls and crumbling cement floors. Parents hauled sand and older students cleared away rubble from parts that had to be pulled down. Soon the first repairs were made, and photos sent to St. Philip's.

New library at St. Patrick's Primary School. New library at St. Patrick's Primary School.

The project caught fire, and each following Lent, everyone at St. Philip's worked hard to continue supporting St. Patrick's. Year by year, under the new headmaster, Mr. Chaura, a variety of improvements were completed. New breeze blocks were poured and installed in the window frames, cracked and chipped cement blackboards were refinished and repainted, wheelchair ramps installed and roofs replaced or repaired.

Many of the senior students wanted to study in the evenings for their high school entrance exams, but had no electricity in their homes. When the mission money brought electricity to one of the blocks of classrooms, it was soon filled from seven to nine each evening with keen students.

The school had no library, and this time help arrived from two directions. A parent received a shipment of books from a former Peace Corps volunteer, but there was nowhere to put them. The headmaster suggested removing the wall between two back-to-back empty storage rooms, and St. Philip's provided funds to have the wall knocked down, the new room painted and shelves constructed. After many cartons of books were organized in the little library, pictures of delighted students examining the books were sent to their friends in Petrolia.

After structural repairs were completed, painting the walls gave the classroom a much brighter appearance. After structural repairs were completed, painting the walls gave the classroom a much brighter appearance.

Most recently, with the structural problems repaired, many of the dark gray concrete walls of the classrooms were painted to give a brighter appearance.

The students and staff of St. Philip's demonstrated a generous, caring, and long lasting commitment to the Malawian students that brought some surprise as well as gratitude from the children and their parents. Although the school is very poor by Canadian standards (most classes still sit on the floor), they are proud of it, and test results have greatly improved. They can only say of their friends at St. Philip's, "We will pray for them."

Small Steps and Extraordinary Achievements

New bridge and new sign leading to the Miriam Wheeler Community Library New bridge and new sign leading to the Miriam Wheeler Community Library

By Miriam Wheeler (former lay missioner)
and Esther McIntosh

(The Story of a Remote Village, A Trans-Atlantic Friendship, a few Extraordinary Children and their Caring Parents)

At first glance, Railway View – a small village on the West Coast of Guyana (in South America) - has every possible obstacle to giving poor children a chance at a good education and to leading healthy and happy lives.

The former squatter area is home to approximately 300 poor families, many of whom are under-employed or unemployed (especially women and youth). In addition, there are multiple social issues that plague the community including drug abuse and alcoholism (among both men and women), crime and domestic abuse. But through a new and innovative community-based school, children are being given an opportunity to read, to learn and to have fun. The success of the school is due to the resolve of parents (many of them illiterate themselves) who believe that they can bring about change in their own lives and the lives of their children. The Railway View Parent Committee has made great strides with support from far off places like Canada including a former Scarboro lay missioner to Guyana, Miriam Wheeler.

The children love to read The children love to read

Background to the Railway View Project

The Railway View project was started in 2010 by a Guyanese, community development specialist Esther McIntosh, through her decade-long friendship with one family in the community. She realized that the two youngest children in the family were illiterate. She began teaching them on weekends with very basic resources. The classes were centered on fun activities and because it was community-based, other children could drop in, with no pressure on them as to how they dressed or whether they had supplies as these were all provided free of charge. Soon after it started, the number of children steadily began to increase; by the end of the year there were approximately 50 children attending classes on the weekends. From the beginning parents in the area took an interest in the classes and joined in to provide whatever help they could and opened their homes for the classes to be held there.

Mandy the Librarian at the National Library in Georgetown, Guyana Mandy the Librarian at the National Library in Georgetown, Guyana

At this time, Scarboro lay missioner, Miriam Wheeler became aware of the program and provided various educational materials for the class including stationery supplies, books, cassettes and other learning resources. Above all she took an interest in the progress of the group which she supported even after she left Guyana. While she was there she mobilized funds and resources for Railway View’s first community library and gave talks to raise awareness of the issue of illiteracy in Guyana.

As a gesture of thanks, the community named the local library after her and in 2011 the Miriam Wheeler Community Library (MWCL) was created. The library is entirely stocked with second hand books that were donated by Miriam and other individuals. The library is completely managed and run by a young community volunteer, 16 year old Mandy Roopnarine. In 2010 Mandy was able to visit the national library in Georgetown and get some exposure to the workings of a library.

Orchestrating Social Change

Many literacy projects are classroom based, to the exclusion of the community which keeps parents and community members outside of their activities. The Railway View Project is premised on the belief that irrespective of literacy levels, employment or other social qualifiers parents can make a difference. This point needs to be nurtured and encouraged within the community.

Esther McIntosh, community development specialist at a meeting with the children Esther McIntosh, community development specialist at a meeting with the children

The project has created a space in the community and a role for parents, in managing the project and making decisions on how it operates. Their participation and interest ensures that the project can be sustained and that there is continuity in the home.

Achievements of the Railway View Project include:

  • Creation of a child friendly space for children;
  • Free after-school remedial literacy classes for children, under the guidance of a qualified teacher;
  • Adult remedial literacy classes
  • Establishment of the Miriam Wheeler Community Library;
  • Establishment of The Railway View Computer Kids class.
  • Establishment of a daycare for preschool children
  • In 2012, Railway View was awarded the Guyana Rotary Club Award for Community Development

Miriam Wheeler  with Railway View Community Reps Miriam Wheeler with Railway View Community Reps
Miriam Wheeler with the children, getting ready for play time.  (at a time when classes were held in people's homes). Miriam Wheeler with the children, getting ready for play time. (at a time when classes were held in people's homes).

Dear Land of the Free

Kaituer Falls in GuyanaKaituer Falls in Guyana

By Kate O’Donnell
Scarboro Lay Mission in Guyana

As much as Guyana is a developing country and although its share of poverty is evident, there is beauty and richness here that money cannot buy. The first verse of the National Anthem describes this country beautifully:

“Dear land of Guyana, of rivers and plains,
Made rich by the sunshine and lush by the rains;
Set gem like and fair, between mountains and sea,
Your children salute you, dear land of the free.”

Not only is the country itself rich in beauty and natural resources, but the people themselves have a wealth of generosity, friendship and hospitality; these being just a few of the many qualities they have. Of course like any country Guyana has its share of crime and unrest but ask many in Guyana how they are doing and most of them will answer; “Trying by God’s Grace.” Their faith in God is strong and inspiring. My friend Olive, who is confined to bed and lives in a one room home where she depends on others, always welcomes me with a smile and is always “trying by God’s grace.”

Miriam Wheeler with Dularie at Leprosy hospital in Mahaica Miriam Wheeler with Dularie at Leprosy hospital in Mahaica

Another of my dearest memories is visiting Duralie on the compound at the Leprosy hospital in Mahaica. The first time Scarboro missioner Miriam Wheeler and I met her, she greeted us with a great big smile of welcome and she, too, was “trying by God’s grace.” Duralie could not walk due to the disease and had to shuffle along on her bottom. She welcomed us into her one room apartment and as we followed she was singing, “Thank you God on this day for your many good blessings.” We were brought to tears by such faith.

Kate and friends in Guyana during festival of Phagwah, a Hindu Holy day. Brightly colored water is thrown at each other at this festival. Kate and friends in Guyana during festival of Phagwah, a Hindu Holy day. Brightly colored water is thrown at each other at this festival.

Guyana is a country rich in religious tolerance, having three main religions: Muslim, Hindu, and Christian, and the main Holy Days of each religion are recognized by all and are public holidays. Interfaith marriages are very common and you often have people of two or even three religions living in the one house.

The drive from the airport to Georgetown, the capital, is a mixture of beauty: good roads, not so good roads; poorer areas, prosperous towns; open spaces and crowded streets. You see it all. The city of Georgetown and along the coast is 12 feet below sea level. The former Dutch colonists built canals to drain the waters into the sea, so as you make your journey into the city, you will notice a multitude of waterways within the city itself leading into the Demerara River.

Like any capital city, Georgetown is a beehive of activity: people hustling, vendors selling their wares, loud music, traffic jams, and horn honking. It is amazing just to stand and watch people come and go.

As a former Dutch and then British colony until 1966, Guyana has amazing architecture. The country is rich in its diversity, being made up of six main ethnic groups: Amerindians, Africans, East Indians, Chinese, Portuguese and Europeans. With a variety of peoples comes a variety of customs and celebrations. These include Arrival Day, an East Indian celebration; Emancipation Day, celebrating freedom for the African slaves; Marsharami, an Amerindian festival and also Guyana’s Republic Day. These are only a few of the many days that Guyana honours. With both secular and Holy Days of celebration, Guyana is a country that knows how to celebrate. Of course one cannot celebrate without food, which is another whole range of delights to smell, feel and enjoy. I think one of my favourites is the “seven-curry” served on a lotus leaf and eaten with your fingers. Yummy yummy!

Seawall at high tide in Guyana Seawall at high tide in Guyana
The seawall at low tide in Guyana The seawall at low tide in Guyana

I have been blessed to travel throughout quite a bit of Guyana, from the plains of the South Rupununi to the Pakarima mountains, from the rivers in the Northwest, down the mighty Essequibo, and everywhere in between, including the famous Kaituer Falls. This dear land of Guyana is certainly made lush by the rains. However, its people to me are its most precious gems and I humbly salute you who live in the “dear land of the free.”

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