The lives of uneducated, impoverished girls and women in South Sudan and Haiti are being transformed daily through the outreach of Mercy Beyond Borders (MBB); a modest but effective nonprofit organization headquartered in Santa Clara. At the heart of MBB is Marilyn Lacey, a woman whose own personal transformation led her to become a Sister of Mercy, and to work with refugees and the displaced. And in 2008, it led her to found Mercy Beyond Borders.
“At MBB, we’re convinced of one powerful truth: When women learn, women matter. Then everything changes,” states Lacey. “Research proves that education of women is the single most effective way to lift families up from extreme poverty. So at MBB, we put education at the core of our mission and our programs.”
“We are a small organization that’s doing miracles for women. It’s life-changing work. We are just helping girls who need it,” said Elisa Divoux, MBB country director for Haiti.
‘Learn, connect and lead’ is the guiding philosophy of MBB. Working initially in South Sudan, MBB offers programs in four of the country’s ten states. It funds scholarships for girls in high school and higher education, pre-nursing internships, leadership training, literacy classes for women, radio broadcasts for advocacy and women’s micro-enterprise projects.
In Haiti, where two thirds of the children cannot afford to attend school, MBB programs began after the 2012 earthquake. Since most nonprofits are located in large cities such as Port-au-Prince, the capital, MBB chose to assist in the rural city of Gros Morne. There it provides high school scholarships for almost 150 girls, safe lodging for those who live in the mountains far from town, computer training and leadership training. MBB gives an annual grant to the only all-girls primary school.
“We asked women what they want, and they said they want dignity,” says Divoux. “They said, ‘I want to write my name.'”
“I am amazed at Sister Marilyn and her staff’s courage and perseverance in serving in such difficult places. They are truly inspiring, as are the women who seek education despite strong cultural resistance,” says Los Altos resident Judy Beggs, who, with her husband Dave, hosted five members of the MBB team at an informal gathering in their home October 4.
Born in San Francisco, Lacey, who has a Master’s Degree in Social Work from U.C. Berkeley and three honorary doctorates, was one of three honorees October 8 at the 9th annual “Making a World of Difference” awards gala of Tempe Sister Cities, Arizona. She was honored for her more than 30 years of humanitarian work with refugees in the U.S., displaced people in Southeast Asia and Africa, and girls in Haiti. In 2001, Lacey was honored by the Dalai Lama as an “Unsung Hero of Compassion” for her life’s work.
“It’s apathy that overwhelms us, when we feel powerless. If you do something, the paralysis is broken. When you’re doing something, it’s not depressing. It’s a blessing,” says Lacey, who tells her personal story in her 2009 memoir, THIS FLOWING TOWARD ME: A Story of God Arriving in Strangers.
“Mercy Beyond Borders is small but effective. We’re very flexible. When we see a need, we respond,” says Lacey. “We have a modest budget, and we stretch the dollars we have. We rely on individual donors. We could do so much more if we had the money.”
“We don’t have a lot, but we do a lot with what we have,” says Divoux.
“I just love being in this work. It’s a whole network of people that makes it possible… I’d like you to be part of this work, too. It brings great joy. It’s the joy that Jesus talks about,” says miracle worker and Sister of Mercy Marilyn Lacey (www.mercybeyondborders.org).