In May of 2000, our co-founder, Leia Johnson, traveled to India with a 4HIM team to scout future partnerships. During that trip, she met a young man named Sunny who would be key in linking 4HIM and eventually Somebody’s Mama to work being done all over the beautiful country of India.
ne of the most important relationships we would develop through Sunny is one with our July Mama of the Month—his wife, Mercy. Mercy works alongside Sunny in their ministry to slum communities in Chennai while raising their three children. She is a woman whose faith is essential to the work she does and is the embodiment of what the New Testament describes as “pure and genuine religion,” working with widows and orphans and those Jesus would have described as the “least of these.”
We emailed Mercy a few simple questions, and knowing her story allows us a glimpse into why she chooses the work she does and inspires us to as Mother Teresa said, “Live simply so that others may simply live.”
Mercy grew up in the Manipur region of northeast India, in a mountainous village called Thonglong. Her father died when she was young, and her mother was attacked by wild dogs one day, losing an arm in the process. Their life was harder even than many of their neighbors, all of whom are known as “tribals” in Indian society. Tribals are a dual heritage people group with a long history of discrimination, considered to be lower than the dalits or “untouchables” of India’s caste system. When we asked what lessons she learned from her mother, Mercy said, “The significant lessons I learned from my mother are accept any hard situation in life and put trust in God to open miraculous ways.”
Mercy made her way to Chennai, the sixth largest city in India, where she met Sunny. They married “in the midst of huge opposition from family and friends because of intercaste marriage” and Mercy says she was deeply touched by Sunny’s “compassion for people’s struggle and love for God.”
Together, they began working closely with “the most desperate people…women beaten by their husbands, struggling to raise children alone, dealing with depression and suicide, and pushed into prostitution; and children forced into work and sex trafficking.” When we asked why she chooses this work, she said, “We prayed to God to use us as instruments to bring restoration in the lives of these women in pain and agony. God has given me the compassionate heart to understand and feel the pain of the struggling women in the community.”
When we talked with Sunny and Mercy about partnering with them to build a school in Mercy’s home village of Thonglong, they enthusiastically agreed that education is key in preventing many of the problems they see. Statistics tell us that education can be freedom from poverty, and educating girls transforms communities and entire societies. Here are just a few things we know:
Of 163 million illiterate youth in the world,
63% are female.
Of the 115 million children ages 6-12
not in school, 3/5 are girls.
Education drastically reduces child marriage—
a girl with 7 years of education
will marry 4 years later
and have 2.2 fewer children.
Educated women are less likely to die
in pregnancy or childbirth
and more likely to send
their own children to school.
A child born to a woman
with a primary school education
is half as likely to die before the age of 5.
One extra year of school
boosts a girl’s future wages by 10-20%.
(Statistics from CARE)
That brings us to our big announcement! We’re going to build a school in Thonglong. Through our relationship with 4HIM, we have an amazing opportunity to bring education to the children of Thonglong, rewriting the story for generations of families in this mountain community.
A little over a year ago, 4HIM helped build a rudimentary school after learning the closest school was miles away, and the children were unable to attend school at all. With overwhelming community support, the school quickly grew from twenty students to over 200. The children regularly score very highly on the government tests and are also learning English. The curriculum was approved by the Indian government, and the school met all requirements from the Ministry of Education…except for one.
The buildings have bamboo walls and dirt floors. The Ministry of Education has declared (and rightfully so) the existing buildings to be substandard and a fire hazard. The government officials have been very tolerant and patient; however, if the buildings are not completed to code, the school will be closed.
HERE IS WHERE WE COME IN!
Somebody’s Mama is going to commit to upgrading their current school to government standards. Private donors have already funded one building through our parent organization, 4HIM, and the ultimate goal would be to build three additional buildings at a cost of $10,000 each. Our community of Mamas is going to commit to building one building. If we raise more than $10,000, it will go toward building the other two buildings. We proved last quarter that this is possible when we built our maternity ward in Sierra Leone, so we have no doubt that we’ve got Mamas across the nation ready to step up and build this school. Our quarterly focus is education, but really this project is one that will eventually affect all areas of focus—maternal health, economic empowerment, and trafficking.
We are so excited to be able to work with Mercy and her husband, Sunny, to build this school* in her hometown in her honor. We are awed by her compassion and integrity, inspired by her ability to impact lives of so many in need while also shaping the minds of three littles, and humbled to be even a tiny part of this puzzle.
Join us in honoring Mercy this month and in building a school in Thonglong!
If you're ready to give now, CLICK HERE, and donate with a note of "Thonglong School" in the Somebody's Mama box. If you want to start a Love Club to help fund this project, read this. It will be the best kind of fun you can have with your friends! Love on, Mamas.
*We put this project on hold until we sorted some logistics which is explained in this post. We are currently working out the details and will be ready to launch this project again soon.