How it all began…

What an incredible month’s journey.  As we have just returned from Cameroon, it seems fitting to post this blog about how and where A Call to Mercy began.  Carol and I met in 1964.  She was my 4th grade teacher.  Neither of us knew then that there was a Divine plan for us, but we know now that it is A Call to Mercy.  Carol met Sr Betty Scanlon in 2006.  Betty worked for Medicines for Humanity and found herself on a project in Njinikom, Cameroon from 2004-2010.  She led Carol, who did mission in a different country every year, to the orphanage at St Martin de Porres with a request that she return more than once.  Carol went twice, fell in love with the children and place and felt called to do more.  She then invited me to join her.  Working together, A Call to Mercy was formed.  The love and support that began in the orphanage at St Martin de Porres has grown now to include  500 orphans and vulnerable children in the surrounding villages of Njinikom.  The orphanage is still at the heart of A Call to Mercy.  The loving connections made with the children here is a big part of what brings us back.  Here are some of our favorite images of children in the orphanage…from our last two visits.  This post is dedicated to the memory of Clovis Kube, pictured below.

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Home Visits, “You are welcome”.

The last two days were spent making home visits to compounds where A Call to Mercy supports children in the household.  A child may be eligible for one or more of the supports which include food supplements, school fees, books, birth certificates and health care.  All of the HIV children receive health care through A Call to Mercy, automatically.  The visits were unannounced but we were always welcomed with open arms.

Regina Nih and her 12 year old son Clovis live on a family compound far off the beaten track.  There is a sister in law and uncle who also live on the compound.  Regina is HIV positive and had a stroke 3 years ago.  She received no physical therapy after leaving the hospital and today cannot walk or use her left hand.  She lays in bed all day.  Clovis has not been in school for 3 years and takes care of his mother best he can.  His aunt helps with food and cooking but spends much of the day on their farm plot, leaving the boy to care for his mother.  When approached 2 years ago with school support, Clovis said he did not want to go.  Perhaps he didn’t want to leave his mother.  Yesterday, he expressed interest in returning to school.  This child has received health care from A Call to Mercy but is in need of much more.  We have asked Project Hope to send emergency food support to this family and to follow up on the needs of this very vulnerable child.  His isolation was palpable.  As we were leaving, the sister in law offered us a gift of 5 eggs.  This family that could not feed itself was proudly offering all they had to their visitors.  We were humbled beyond words.

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Regina and her son Clovis.

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Regina explains that she eats once a day, usually rice.

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Project Hope’s Eric checks the mobility of her leg.

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Listening to Project Hope explain the supports that will come.

We arrived at this compound to find only children, some of who receive support from A Call to Mercy.  There had been a death of a child the night before and the adults were at the burial.  It is not unusual for children of 9 or 10 to be caring for many smaller ones.  The children are self reliant at a very young age.

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Children caring for themselves at the compound.

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Grace Nambu lives with her sister and they have 7 children between them.  The grandmother also lives with them.  Two of the children receive all of the supports from A Call to Mercy, which helps the whole family.  All of the men have died or are gone.  The two sisters work the farm plot which helps to feed the family.  They also sell some of what they grow.  Everyone we visited offered us gifts of precious food.  To decline would be an insult.  Here we received medicinal bitter nuts as gifts.

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Grace and her family.

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Child peeking through the slats in the cook room.  A room where there is an open fire on the floor.

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A warm greeting.

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Gracious offering of bitter medicinal nuts.

Chiawichi is the mother of Ciduanet who was at school when we visited.  Cid receives school support and health care from A Call to Mercy.  Cid and Chiawichi live with her mother in law and great grandmother who is bed ridden and over 100 years old.  Chiawichi expressed “plenty gratitude” for the support of her child.  Her mother in law offered us Kola nuts as a gesture of gratitude, telling us “She who brings Kola brings life”.  There is a lot of tradition and folklore around the Kola.

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Making fufu corn in the cook room, which also is the bedroom of grandmother.

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Grandmother, over 100 yrs old.

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Gift of “Kola”.

Rhoda Nange has three children, age 4, 15 and 19, all receiving support from A Call to Mercy.  When her husband died 3 years ago, the family was devastated.  Without his income, the family could barely afford food let alone school fees.  Melvis, 15 receives school support, fees, books uniforms.  Flora, 4yrs old receives food supplements which helps the whole family.  Emile, 19 is mentally disabled and requires a lot of care.  Rhoda worries about his future.  The family farms ground nuts and sells what they can.  They also grow plantains to eat and sell. We were gifted with a branch of plantains.

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Melvis and Flora bagging sugared nuts for sale.

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Emile, selling nuts on the road.  Emile has some form of mental retardation along with visual problems.

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Rhoda, chopping down a gift of gratitude for us.

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Plantains fresh from the tree.

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Rhoda’s family in front of their rented house.

Max

The orphanage is where A Call to Mercy started.  Max is in the orphanage. We are both completely in love with this child.  We met Max here 3 years ago .  Now he is 6 yrs old and remains in the orphanage by the grace of God.  He is here with his mother, Veronica, who is 26 and still finishing high school.  There is a family relationship with one of the sisters and help with school fees from a wonderful sponsor…so the rules are bent a bit for this child and his mother.  To be with Max is to be completely with joy.  He is at the age where he wants to please everyone, perhaps he senses the uncertainties…. but he is so enthusiastic about life.  Sunday, Carol and I had decided to trek over the hills.  We saw Max at the fence as we walked and decided to bring him along with us.  Our pleasure was increased one hundred fold by his presence.  We had a little picnic sitting on the edge of a hill and Max spotted a mango tree far below.  He was desperate to go see if he could find a ripe mango…so we trekked down the side of the mountain to the tree.  Max first tried reaching the fruit with a stick but finally resorted to throwing some fallen spoiled fruit at the ripe fruit…and down it came.  He was not greedy.  He only wanted one to show to Mimi who remained at the top of the hill waiting for us. This child has so much potential.  He is bright, loving and kind.  He only needs support, love and tender care to blossom.

 

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Max, gathering wood on his way home from school.

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Doing his laundry at the orphanage.

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Irresistible!

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Spotting houses in the mountains, and specific trees.

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Trekking down to the mango tree.

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The prize mango.

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Showing Mimi how to know if it is ripe.

Mentoring a way forward…

For the children in A Call to Mercy’s program, envisioning a bright future is a luxury they have not been afforded.  Lacking the love and direction of one or both parents and living in poverty means survival is all they can hope for.  A Call to Mercy is hoping to change that through the mentoring program with Project Hope.  From what we have seen this visit, the mentoring is diverse and is going well.  The mentorships are 1, 2 or 3 years depending on the trade.  One issue that has emerged is that of “tools of the trade”.  Many students need tools while learning.  Others will need equipment when they finish.  As we’ve traveled around visiting sites, Project Hope has been gathering information on what equipment is needed in each field and the costs.  We’ve been talking about ways to help the most enthusiastic students move forward, especially those in fields where they must work for themselves.  As one struggle is resolved, another arises.   These images were taken in Belo, a nearby town to Njinikom.

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Just off the main road in Belo, this road has many sheds and workshops.

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Learning to use the manual knitting loom, Prisca has gained proficiency in only 6 months. She tearfully told us that she is so grateful for the support because her mama died a few years back and her papa struggles to take care of her and her siblings. She said the worry of it all hurts her head.

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Tedious and careful work.

 

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Prisca’s mentor gives guidance when needed.

 

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Prisca and her sweet mentor.

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Otto is mentoring 5 youths through A Call to Mercy.  A generous, kind man, he works with many orphans and even offers them work afterwards.  His shop was quite large.  Gotta love these signs.

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Five children mentored through your generosity. LtoR, Happiness, Fabrice, Mercy, Seraphine and Nayah with their mentor, Otto.

 

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Carol watches the work being done.

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Your’s truly, capturing on video.

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Carol compliments Otto on the impeccable workmanship.

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Quiniva is 18.  She worries that she will not be able to afford equipment when she graduates.

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Project Hope’s MacDonald Yengong talks to the mentor about basic equipment and costs needed to begin work as a seamstress.

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This is Thecla.  At 19, she has already endured so much.  She has lost both parents, is HIV positive and recently suffered a stroke due to complications of the HIV.  She is mostly recovered now and has no problem producing a beautiful smile.  She says she doesn’t know what she would do without the support and promises to help others like herself when she succeeds.

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Thecla, at the machine.

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Thecla with her mentor and their colorful dresses.

A New Venture.

Great things start small.  A Call to Mercy is venturing into a small experiment in the community by employing seamstresses to make clothing that we can then sell at home, putting the profit back into A Call to Mercy’s orphan and vulnerable children’s program.  The seamstress makes a fair wage which helps uplift the local economy and CTM will make a profit to funnel back into the program.  After getting prices, buying fabric and checking out quality using Carol’s knowledge of sewing, we chose two seamstresses and asked them to make two designs that we brought from home.  The seamstress featured here is Grace Fuen.   She is 36 years old and has 6 children from age 2-16. Grace has been running her rented shop for 9 years.  She has also been going to classes for 5 years.  She dropped out of school at age 11 and is just ready to graduate high school, along with her oldest child.   We love her drive and desire to learn and work and make a better life for herself and her children.  We gave her the first sample trousers at 10:30am with fabric and she had a pair to show us made by 2pm.  Then she went to school.  DSC_7243DSC_7240

Support from the heart.

A Call to Mercy is currently giving holistic support to 350+ orphans and vulnerable children, 50 of whom are being mentored.  The need is immense here…and each child has his or her own story of loss and struggle.  We try to get to know many of their stories.  We don’t want to see them as numbers.   We met Ernestine 5 years ago when she was working as a caretaker at the hospital orphanage.  At night, she was teaching herself to sew with an old machine that the hospital matron had loaned to her.  We could see that she had talent and a desire to do more with her life.  She was the first child we mentored, before it became part of A Call to Mercy’s program.  We paid for her training as a “decorator”.  In Africa, seamstresses decorate weddings, funerals and events with fabric.  Ernestine’s training is over and she has her certificate but is still working with her trainer, without pay, in order to keep learning.  She is also embarking on her own business.  A Call to Mercy purchased satin decorator fabric to help her get that started.DSC_7043DSC_7048

Maris is 14 years old.  He is a cousin to Clovis, the boy in the last post.  Maris has lost all of his elders in his immediate family, both parents, all four grandparents.  He is alone in the world and lives with extended relatives who do not have the means to support him.  Sr Rosemary, Director of Project Hope has taken him under her wing this past year, giving him work in the pig sty during the summer holidays and food when she can.  She begged people she knew in the community for a second hand bike for him because his school is more than an hours walk from where he is currently living.  When we met Maris last week, we were trying to find Clovis’s twin siblings.  Maris helped with that search.  We also learned that his tires were busted and the chain broken on his bike.  We gave him money to get his bike fixed and he returned to show us the work.  Maris is being enrolled in A Call to Mercy’s program so he will not have to worry anymore about who will help him pay his school fees.  He will also receive health care.  He is a sweet and grateful boy.  Here he is with his bike, and wearing a t-shirt donated by Dub Caesar Apparel, Philadelphia.DSC_7051DSC_7052

For Clovis…

Clovis was 17 when he died last year from complications of Sickle Cell.  He was a dear, precious boy that we met at the orphanage in 2012.  He captured our hearts with his quiet ways and tenderness. Clovis’ mother passed after the birth of his twin siblings, Stella and Sylvester.  He came to be at St Martin de Porres Mission Hospital Orphanage to help care for them and keep them connected to a family member.  We left an account for Clovis at the internet cafe so he could stay in touch with us throughout the year and he emailed us two days before he died.  We were so heartsick to learn of his passing.  When we returned this year to find his twin siblings gone from the orphanage…we felt compelled to track them down and make sure they were OK.  Clovis would want us to do that.  We discovered that they were in another orphanage, Harvest Children’s Home, a few villages away in Fundong.  The orphanage here at St Martin de Porres is one of the few that takes infants.  It is expensive to feed and care for an infant. And their policy is to send them back to their extended families when they can walk and eat real food.  These twins, Stella and Sylvester had no where to go, both parents gone, their siblings still too young to support them.  Not only did we find them healthy and well, but we discovered a wonderful Baptist Orphanage, Harvest Children’s Home, that took them in with open arms until they can hopefully be rejoined with their siblings.  It filled our cup to see them.

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Clovis in 2014

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Sylvester and Stella, now 4 yrs old at Harvest Children’s Home.

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Sylvester

 

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Stella

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Emmanuel Ful, Director and Chaplain and Emmanuel Ngala, Manager of Harvest Children’s Home.

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Carol with her babies.