Mercy Beyond Borders
A young girl.
She has been told her whole life she is something worth less than a cow.
By the time she is a teenager, her father and uncles have already picked an older man for her to marry. Despite her dismay, she is pushed into the inevitably of early marriage and early childbirth.
She will never learn to read or write, she will never have the chance to learn; all she can do is watch as her dreams are washed down the drain.
This is everyday life for women living in South Sudan.
According to a study conducted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, 31 million girls are unable to attend primary school and 34 million girls are unable to attend secondary school.
In some places, such as South Sudan, the constant civil wars and discrepancies between various ethnic groups cause many people to flee or become overwhelmed with poverty. Many girls are also forced into early marriages that lead to early childbirth.
The combined mayhem from the wars and the belief of women being worthless in South Sudan make the ability to achieve education almost impossible for women.
In countries like Uganda, there are many refugee camps as people flee from places such as South Sudan. Due to the focus on feeding and housing these refugees, education is left in the dust.
However, in other places such as Haiti, poverty is the problem. There is not enough money to support girls to go to school, and they are, therefore, preoccupied with tasks around their households, sometimes having to walk miles for food or water.
Mercy Beyond Borders aims to change this reality.
Inside the organization
Mercy Beyond Borders is an organization whose mission is to help girls and women living in extreme poverty, such as Shanas Keni Jafer, learn, connect, and lead.
After fleeing from a bombing in her hometown, Jafer was brought to St. Bathika’s school, one of the schools run by Mercy Beyond Borders, where she was educated and eventually became a teacher. Jafer then moved back to her hometown, determined to teach and give other women in her community the opportunity to learn.
In order to help girls like Jafer, Mercy Beyond Borders works in places that need their assistance most, including South Sudan, Haiti, Uganda, and Malawi.
“Our target was women who live in extreme poverty, meaning women who live in countries where they earn a living of less than $1 a day,” said Theresa Samuel Boko, a Mercy Beyond Borders board member.
Mercy Beyond Borders wants to educate women as well as empower them. They believe that when a woman is educated, she is given the power to lead and make a difference.
“Cesar Chavez once said ‘Once a person is educated, you cannot uneducate them,’” said Sister Marilyn Lacey, founder of Mercy Beyond Borders. “You can shut them down, you can throw them in jail, and you can restrain them, but they’ve still got an education, and they know what needs to change; they know they have the tools.”
Through education, Mercy Beyond Borders believes they are not only helping individuals learn but giving them the skill sets to impact those around them.
“We believe that we’re giving our girls the tools to be successful to develop their talents and their skills so that they might ultimately go back to their communities where they’re most likely going to be the most educated and the most talented people. So, we believe we’re helping them to become leaders and to start making a change on a small level in their home communities that will hopefully ripple out into and around the world,” said Jonathon Lamare, country director for Haiti for Mercy Beyond Borders.
The true stories
Mercy Beyond Borders does more than educate girls; it helps create a sanctuary.
According to the organization, Josephine Nakodar was only 13 when her uncles arranged for her to marry an older man. In response, Nakodar refused and argued with her uncles.
Her uncles then tied her to a tree and whipped her until she bled.
After her uncles had left her, she ran away until came upon a group of girls wearing school uniforms. She followed them until she arrived at St. Bakhita Girls’ primary school. There, she sought education and protection.
Nakodar feels very included at school and is grateful for the teachers and other students’ support, as well as the safety it provides from her uncles.
Aside from promoting education, Mercy Beyond Borders gives loans and provides support groups to help women start small businesses.
Nyanakiir Arok is one woman who received a loan to start her own business. According to Mercy Beyond Borders, after escaping South Sudan and moving to a refugee camp in Uganda, she was able to start a bakery where she sold fried dough bread. She was very successful and hopes to be able to afford to send her children to school.
Another woman named Rebecca Yar Yak was a leper and as a result, was not accepted in her society, as others were constantly afraid of her; she was treated as if she wasn’t human. In turn, Yak began to see herself as an inanimate object rather than a human being.
However, one of the workers of Mercy Beyond Borders invited Yak into a support group with other women, trying to create their own businesses. In the support group, she learned how to sew, create baskets, and write the alphabet and numbers.
Through the group, Yak also discovered she had a talent for singing. She then started composing songs about HIV/AIDs and how to prevent it. The government then spread her songs to create awareness for HIV/AIDS.
Her songs filled her with joy and a purpose.
According to Mercy Beyond Borders, Yak said, “Now I, Rebecca, who used to be dead, am giving life to many people through my songs.”
The organization also hopes to help countries realize the significance of women and their contributions to society, especially where women have limited access to education.
“Those countries that women are not involved in are losing 50% of their human capital, meaning the talents of human beings. So, I say this to the South Sudanese. ‘Do you think that a cow could walk very far if they had only two legs?’ And they say ‘no, of course not.’ Then I say, ‘do you think your country is going to move forward when half of its population is not involved?'” Lacey said.
The student perspective
For many teenagers in the U.S., education is a given. While some students may not realize what is happening outside their social circle, others recognize the lack of education for girls in other countries and view it as a pressing problem.
“You know, it is obviously an issue that education standards, especially for women, are not equal around the world. I don’t think that there are many that would disagree with the fact that every child deserves the right to basic education,” said sophomore Mira Wakefield.
Likewise, Wakefield believes that anyone an education, including girls without access to such, is beneficial to them as well as to society.
“We’ve seen women globally who are able to achieve an education and go on to a career or to go on to all sorts of fantastic things,” Wakefield said. “They then return to their communities to share the wealth of knowledge to aid their communities in progressing forward.”
Whether it be an organization such as Mercy Beyond Borders or a small group of students wanting to make a difference, people are starting to take action regarding the opportunities of education for girls around the world.
Matilda Rial, a Mercy Beyond Borders board member, said, “I think of the difference that education has had on my life and my siblings’ lives, and I would like every woman in the world to get an opportunity to have an education.”
This story was originally published on Scot Scoop News on January 16, 2020.