Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lament of Fr John Glynn, WeCare! founder


A Friend of Tembari Children

SOMETIME last February, I took up with Fr John M Glynn the ticklish issue on monthly feeding grants he farms out to some 14 Carer Groups in Port Moresby.

Fr John is the founder of WeCaRe! PNG, which has been in operation since four years ago. It provides modest grants to village soup kitchens worthy of support and sends to schools hundreds of children in Port Moresby.

These Carer Groups are operated by village/settlement mothers who have found time to look after the street children in their areas by providing them food, at least three times a week, if not twice.

Most of the carers are simple settlement women, unemployed and in need of support themselves. WeCaRe! has a mini-loan scheme which makes money available to them personally at no interest. Those who availed of this had put the money to very good and profitable use.

In my email to Fr John, I stressed that the K400 monthly grant that his foundation gave to each of the 14 carer groups, including the Tembari Children Care (TCC), a day care and orphanage center, was, and still, unrealistic.

The measly sum was not enough to feed a group of 20 to 78 children in a month. With the soaring cost of foodstuff in the country, the sum of K400 could only support two or three feeding days in a week. In between these food-days, we didn’t know what the children ate, if ever they ate at all.

During those days in February, the Tembari Children Care (TCC) was feeding 78 children – orphans, neglected, abandoned and the so-called unfortunate.

And the grant did not really go far; The Center could only make do with four feeding days – Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Penny Sagembo, the TCC founder, allotted K40 to cover one meal – kaukau, sliced bread, veggies and cordial drink.

That’s 51 toea per kid per feeding, four times a week. The truth is, the grant could only pay for an average of K25 per feeding, to cover 78 kids, for 16 feeding days in a month.

The gap in the amount normally came from the pockets of the volunteer mothers. So, what could they have for the daily feeding?

Well, nothing much, although it would fill tummies to last the kids for the day.

(These days, however, The Center is in a different plane – it is now feeding its 97 beneficiary children twice a day, six days a week. Thanks a million to the continuous food support from a handful of individuals and entities who have found virtues in the services we provide to our beneficiaries.)

I had asked Fr John if there’s a possibility that he increased his grant to TCC and the rest of the 13 other Carer Groups to something more realistic than K400 a month.

In his reply to me, Fr John pointed out that WeCare! guarantees a minimum subsidy of K400 to every Care Group, no matter how large or small it is. And WeCare! agrees to pay school fees for children who are either orphans or have only one parent.

This year, The Center’s 42 schoolchildren are able to enroll in 11 schools in Port Moresby, thanks to school fees amounting to K7,500, which had been paid for by Fr John’s foundation.

But Fr John made it very clear to me, and he wished that the same thing gets through the rest of the groups who have stake in street children in every community:

That WeCare! absolutely refuses to accept any responsibility whatsoever for other people’s children.

This applies to feeding them, clothing them, sending them to school, providing health care, or anything else.

“The orphaned and vulnerable children of this city – and there are thousands of them – are the responsibility of the communities in which they live.

Fr John said WeCare! continuously seeks out good hearted people who have on their own volition taken on the responsibility of caring for these lost children.

“We offer these people our support for what they are doing, but they do not work for WeCare! and are not our responsibility … they answer to the community they represent, and that must be their first source of support for what they do.”

It is entirely up to the Carer Group to decide how many children they can look after. But they should not take in more than what they could ably feed.

Fr John says: WeCare! will help any group that has one or more children in its care.

But the foundation refuses to help someone who says: “If you support me, I will do the work”, he said.

“We absolutely refuse to be manipulated, or in any way, enticed into this kind of dependent relationship with a group or a carer.

Fr John started WeCare! out of his own pocket four years ago after seeing what the situation was like for the neglected and abandoned young women and children of Port Moresby.

However, he decided that it is wrong to make any attempt to take away the responsibility of others for their children.

“I am opposed to the ideas of orphanages – and also to the idea that foreigners, or strangers, should go into the settlement to ‘rescue these children from their own people’.

During his active days as Catholic priest, Fr John preached community inter-dependence – sharing each others’ burdens.

“WeCaRe! could deliberately limit what we do and concentrate all our efforts on a limited number of children and thus, provide much more help.”

“I do not want to do that,” Fr John said, “because I want to affect as many children as possible.

“I want to make people aware of what they can accomplish for themselves if only they will accept responsibility for their own lives and not wait helplessly for some outside help to arrive and save them.

In so many occasions, Fr John had stressed to the Carer Groups that WeCaRe! can never give them all the assistance they need.

“We asked them to be pro-active in their communities – talking to their leaders and churches – constantly pushing the message that we are all responsible for our children in need.

Indeed, Fr John was frustrated and could only lament: “It is an uphill battle – I have failed for all these four years to get my own Church to accept what I am doing … and to recommend to the Catholic parishes that they each adopt a care group ... the other churches are no better.”

Undaunted, he begged for money and was lucky that Digicel Foundation came to its rescue with substantial funding. This enabled him to put hundreds of children to school.

But other than Digicel Foundation, there’s nowhere funding could come from.

“There’s no one else other than myself seeking funds for what we do … but the pressure on me for yet more and more money to support them is always increasing.”

Back in 2006, Fr John began meeting with a group of young street girls from Talai settlement every Thursday on Ela Beach.

“I would cook up a big pot of rice with veggies and meat and we would sit on the sand eating it with hard boil eggs and cordial … talking, talking and talking.

“I had about K50 a week to spend … as friends begun to help me, the work expanded and I started putting kids in school ... but it was still dependent on me.

“The Church advised me that I should not be doing this and tried to stop me in fact – but I kept on until WeCaRe! developed into what it is now.

He said: “Archbishop John now approves of what I am doing … but I still get no support from any part of the Catholic Church.”

The good father has worried a lot over the fate of WeCare! once he is out of the picture.

“If anything happens to me --- I am almost 74 – that will be the end of WeCaRe!. If I failed to establish WeCaRe! as fully locally-owned, self-sustaining NGO, that will be the end of WeCaRe!, too.

Fr John said he sees the growth of Carer Groups in Port Moresby to 20, with up to 1,000 children – and it all depends to himself alone to find the money and supervise the work.

“And I am just a bush priest who came to Port Moresby in retirement after almost 40 years in remote parishes in New Ireland and Manus.”

He said that he has found a few people who are trying to help him.

“I pray that they will be able to take over from me before the end of this year.

“… I take the work of WeCaRe! very seriously indeed … I hope it will survive me, but it won’t, unless others are prepared to share the burden.”

There is no way in the world that WeCaRe! will be able to provide all that is needed to feed the growing number of unfortunate children in Port Moresby, says Fr John.

“So, we must keep pushing our basic thesis – these children are a community problem and a community responsibility … WeCaRe! can only help – but it cannot relieve the community of its responsibility.”

(I took liberty in resurrecting Fr John Glynn’s thoughts on WeCaRe!’s feeding grant after the 14 Carer Groups recently complained among themselves that the K400 monthly assistance could barely meet the food needs of their beneficiary children, and that it should be made more realistic to meet the soaring prices of foodstuff. The mothers’ grievance followed a recent monthly meeting with Fr John wherein they were made to account how they used the money. As it is now, the Carer Groups should really find new funding source to be able to buy enough food for their beneficiary children.)

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