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Mercy Mission

Mercy House - 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. The Department gives R30 (€3) per day per resident. The rest of the costs have to be gained through fund-raising. Irish Missionary Resource Service (IMRS), Mercy Solidarity Fund, US AID, the S. A. Bishops’ Lenten Appeal Fund and the Conrad Hilton 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.

Sr Colleen and Mercy House Staff

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 one hundred women and twenty 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. The general hospital, clinics, churches and the courts are all in close proximity to the 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 HIV/AIDS through awareness and education campaigns offered to the public in general.

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. The social worker is the programme manager and there are six house mothers, a skills coordinator and a housekeeper who is also the HIV/AIDS outreach coordinator.

Five years ago, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) asked the staff of Mercy House to shelter women victims of human trafficking. Since then one hundred and forty four survivors have been sheltered in Mercy House. The majority of these have been from Thailand. Others have come from other African States. The staff has been trained by IOM and awareness-raising is part of the programme.

Sr Colleen Wilkinson RSM
Director – Mercy House

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