Transitional Shelter For Women In Distress – Pretoria, South Africa
Catherine McAuley generated in her sisters a deep concern for the sick and dying poor, for those at risk in society and for the spiritual needs of people around her. Inspired by her reverence for people and her insight into the role of women, the South African Province decided to open a shelter for women victims of domestic violence and their young children.
In the year 2000 a house in Pretoria was purchased and renovated to cater for seventeen women in distress. Sr. Goretti Rule was asked to manage this project. She applied to the Department of Social Development for registration and this was granted.
Since October 2004, Mercy House has also sheltered survivors of trafficking in persons. The majority of these have been from Thailand, while others have come from other African States. Over the past few years there has been an increase in the number of South African survivors. There has also been an increase in the number of women willing to testify against their perpetrators in court.
The Department gives approximately 40% towards the running costs of the shelter. The rest of the costs have to be gained through fund-raising. Misean Cara, Mercy Solidarity Fund, the S.A. Bishops’ Lenten Appeal Fund and the S.A. Bishops’ Foundation among others have enabled this project to continue assisting the women who need protection. Of course the parishioners, the students of the local Mercy school and many generous individuals often give donations in kind.
Demonstration against Human Trafficking
The goal of the Mercy House project is: To walk with homeless traumatized women as they rediscover their self worth and find their place in society. Each year an average of sixty women and twenty-five children are provided with shelter and the basic comforts of life. Usually the women are accommodated from three to six months while they seek employment and earn enough money to rent a room or flat. In the last two years there has been an increase in the number of pregnant women who are in need of protection. Some of these women have needed to spend a longer time in the shelter.
While the women are in Mercy House, they receive individual counselling and all the professional care they may need. Fortunately, the shelter is situated close to the general hospital, clinics, churches and the courts.
Sr. Colleen (3rd Left) with the staff from Mercy House
One of the objectives of the project is to empower women towards financial independence through income generating skills. Some of the skills that are taught are: computer literacy, child care education, hair styling, typing, baking, fabric painting, hand and machine sewing and pattern-drafting. In the life skills programme the women are taught communication skills, how to draw up a CV, budgeting, conflict management, team building and setting personal goals. Health education is also dealt with as most of the women are HIV positive.
The women are encouraged to go to the church of their own choice, but Bible sharing and prayer sessions are offered to anyone who wishes to take part. In the gardens of the house there is a prayer room where many take the opportunity to pray and reflect quietly alone or with others.
There is a children’s programme that caters for any children who are staying with their mothers. The older ones are able to attend a nursery school in the neighbourhood.
The Bophelo Outreach Project which is sponsored by Mercy House aims to promote a greater understanding of Trafficking in Persons, gender based violence and HIV/AIDS through awareness and education campaigns offered to the public in general.
Workshop for social workers facilitated by staff at Mercy House
Mercy House also has a drop-in centre that offers counselling and advice to people not in residence.
All this work is carried out by a very dedicated staff that is Mercy incarnate.
Colleen Wilkinson rsm
Director – Mercy House
South African Province