PITTSBURGH – Mercy came roaring back this fall at Carlow University’s Campus Lab School when students raised a whopping $11,635 to buy bunk beds for a girls school in Sudan.
The campus school’s tradition committee wanted to return to its mercy mission after a brief hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic and faculty turnover.
“The initial thought was that we had traditionally done a walkathon in support of another mercy school, and that was one of several fundraisers that we would do throughout the year for charities, and that had sort of fallen by the wayside over the last few years,” said Karen McDowell, CLS middle school coordinator.
So, McDowell made contact with Sister Marilyn Lacey at Mercy Beyond Borders, a U.S. charity that operates St. Bakhita Girls’ Primary School in South Sudan for impoverished, refugee women and girls. The money will be used to buy furnishings for a dormitory being built at the school.
Lacey said about a third of their 873 girls have been sleeping on the cement floor of the assembly hall. It’s the only primary school just for girls in South Sudan, many of whom have never used a flush toilet or a toothbrush.
The new dormitory is s a huge step up for the school, she said, adding that everyone is looking forward to proper lighting and ventilation in the new space. Lacey said each girl gets a bed, mattress, linens, a cardboard “trunk” for their belongings and a plastic pail in which to do their laundry.
“A growing number of our girls have fled forced marriages,” Lacey said. “Some have literally run through forests until they found us.”
Campus school students learned about the impoverished girls half a world away through accompanying class work and were quickly on board with the walkathon project.
“Most of the students, especially in the older grades, saw some of the videos and did some research about Mercy Beyond Borders because I like people to know about the charities that they’re contributing to,” McDowell said.
Jessica Webster, head of school at CLS, said the children took it very seriously.
“It was a great way to remind students when they work hard and succeed, they have a sense of agency, and can be part of a solution,” Webster said.
They’ve never raised this much before, she said, and admitted she and McDowell did several recounts of the money to make sure of the total.
“Returning to some traditions I was not sure what to expect and I warned Sister Marilyn of that,” McDowell said. “She said ‘Oh well, if you raise a couple of hundred dollars and we can buy a couple of bunk beds that would be great.’ So, she was just so excited when I shared how much we had raised with her.”
Lacey said those beds are being welded now, each at a cost of about $180. The dormitory construction has had several pandemic-related delays, but Lacey hopes it will be open by Christmas.
The walk Sept. 23 was around The Green in the center of campus, a distance of about a tenth of a mile. Students received pledges based on laps walked as well as lump sum donations.
The walkathon was done in stages with a 40- or 50-minute time limit, depending on age groups. Webster said some of the older kids ran the course. Eighth grader Jacob Tuite had the highest lap total with 53.
“I’m sure we’ll do it again next year,” McDowell said.