Monday, March 22, 2010

Meri with a mission

Penny (left) with children who are among the 78 orphan- beneficiaries of the ministry Tembari Children Care (TCC) and ministry workers.

Penny Sage-Embo, 30, cuddling three-year-old orphan Benjamin Ekopa, one of her wards, during a break at the Digicel Christmas picnic at Botanical Garden last December.

Penny (right) with Digicel Foundation CEO Marina van der Vlies. -- All pictures by ALFREDO P HERNANDEZ

A Friend of Tembari Children

(A number of blog readers and those who happened to read my online column “Letters from Port Moresby” have asked about how the Tembari Children Care (TCC) Inc came to existence. To those who found the curiosity, I thank them. Who knows, they might, in their own time, decide to help our kids. It is therefore my pleasure to repost the story I carried in LFPOM column and published in The National’s Weekend magazine sometime ago. -- APH)

FOR quite sometime, she grappled with the problem: There had been a growing number of children in her settlement who were losing a parent -- either the father or the mother-- if not both, to HIV/AIDS, TB or cancer.

And their care had been left to their equally helpless grandmothers who could barely meet their needs as they grew older.

Left with nothing to support them, their “bubu” had allowed them to wander in the community all day, with no prospect of seeing a classroom ever in their life.

Penny Sage-Embo (aka Sagembo), then newly-married six years ago at 20, wanted to end this anomaly. And she knew how to do this although it would be an uphill battle.

When she was a 15-year-old girl back in Oro province, she was involved with the children’s ministry under the Anglican Church, where her dad was one of the priests.

At least, with this childhood experience in dealing with the problems of her much-younger peers back then, she got something to fall back on.

At the ATS Oro settlement at Seven-Mile on the other side of the Jackson International airport where her family lives, Penny started the first step in her quest to rescue the settlement’s orphans, abandoned and neglected children, whose number had become a big concern – she told the lay leaders of the local Anglican church of her plans. That was in 2003.

They just looked at her and then flatly dismissed her ideas.

“No way,” they told her.

Their senseless rejection of her dreamt orphanage ministry devastated her. She thought that with their church support, rescuing these kids would be much easier. But sadly, this would not be the case.

Was she a victim of church politics? The question has lingered inside her head up to now. She couldn’t believe that these lay leaders were the very same people who would play church politics for their own ends!

Undaunted, she took a very drastic decision: She got out of her church, but not necessarily renouncing her faith as a devoted Anglican.

“I got out of our church (Anglican) so I could form my own ministry … this way, it would not run in conflict with
programmes our church had in mind during those days,” Penny, now 30, told this writer last Saturday (December 5) at the Digicel Christmas picnic for orphan children at the Botanical Garden.

And to make sure she could get funding support from charitable institutions, she registered her ministry known in her settlement as the Temberi Children’s Care (TCC) with the Investment Promotion Authority (IPA).

But so-called birth pains dogged them. That time, TCC was already looking after some of the village’s 30 orphaned children.

Being a new group, theirs had no funds with which to feed her “children”; running on empty a project for more than five years was next to impossible.

Her husband Hayward Sage, now 34, then working as salesman of Badili Hardware, had complained a lot. She was spending for the feeding programme from her own fortnightly pay as counsellor at Anglicare Stop AIDS.

And Hayward had reluctantly chipped in from his own pay packet, complaining that “we’ve got our own problems in this household …” Eventually however, he later became the TCC chairman.

Still, Penny would go back to the lay leaders of her church for some small assistance, like for instance, requesting use of some church facilities such as chairs and tables during some ministry activities. She has always thought the kids belonged to the church and that there was nothing wrong if they sought its help.

But her request letters remained unanswered, not knowing whether or not they would ever help her. Help never came, anyway.

So, she went for little help from the Renewal Churches, the Covenant Ministry 72 International and the Christian Revival Crusade (CRC), which all welcomed her with open arms.

Early this year (March 2009), Fr John Glynn, the 73-year-old head of the WeCARe, learnt of Penny’s ministry, whose beneficiaries has now grown to 78.

The feeding programme, declared Fr John, is “meritorious and it needs some support”.

With the good Father’s intercession, Digicel Foundation came into the picture on March 16, 2009, allotting TCC a modest monthly funding of K400.

The monthly grant has afforded the ministry to serve the kids a measly lunch at least once, four times a week, for a total of 16 feeding sessions every month. The once-a-day meal, however, was wanting in many things, particularly nutrients.

With the soaring cost of foodstuff, Penny and her colleagues who are mothers like her would have to make do with whatever kina they have.

A K40-budget per feeding would be stretched to feed 78 mouths. And to fill whatever gap in the weekly food spending, they would use their own money.

“The monthly grant would not be enough anymore these days … but we have to make do with what we have,” Penny said, without worrying much about it.

“God will always provide … and it has been that way ever since.”

Marina van der Vlies, chief executive of Digicel Foundation, is not only impressed with Penny’s determination to make a change in the life of her 78 “children”. In fact, she considers her a “visionary”.

Marina says of Penny, now 30 and mother to a boy, 3, and a girl, 7: “She’s not only after her wards’ physical uplift by providing them badly needed nutrition … she also has seen their future role in the country’s development through education.”

“She’s doing such a good job … you should see her school (at the settlement – the two Digicel Foundation-sponsored CLCs).

“An excellent project, hers is a great example that her community must fully support.”

Marina said what Penny and her colleagues are doing right now is basically trying to develop a “culture of volunteerism” in the community that deserves solid support.

“She’s taking the lead and this is not an easy task …” says Marina.

“We, at Digicel, will be there for her.”

Looking back at her first biggest failure ever as an organiser –that is, getting the support from the lay leaders at her village church who, apparently, are just green with envy over her feat – she knew she has bounced back from it several times over.

“She did it with flying colours,” Marina said, referring to her success.

(The people who belittled her quest to help the needy children in her settlement decided to shut their mouths. As of this little footnote, The Center has the support of 12 business entities and institutions and several generous individuals who believe in the kind of change The Center seeks for its 83 children.)

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