Category Archives: Outreach

Sisters Respond to Local Needs in Glasgow

by Sister Mary Ross, SNDdeN

Parents, etc. is a drop-in centre, free of charge, for parents and other concerned family members seeking advice about children and young people. Currently, three Sisters staff GWNov2015-8the Centre: Sisters Kate Mulligan and Mary Ross, SNDdeN, psychologists, retired from active practice and Sister Theresa McAllister, SNDdeN, former administrator and teacher, returned from serving twenty-two years in Nigeria. Mrs. Margaret Bland, Mrs. Moira Berrie, and Mrs. Pat Hay, retired psychologist, join the Sisters in this family counseling service  for parents. Over ten years ago, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) leased this small shop in Glasgow by using a fund designated to develop new ministries for our Sisters in Scotland, with money provided from the sale of stained-glass windows from Dowanhill College. In this two-room Centre, parents and other relatives bring a wide variety of family concerns. Individuals find tea and coffee in a welcoming space and privacy in a room provided for dialogue and counseling.

Critical Issues
One mother whose husband deserted her when her children were  very young, is now struggling with her teenagers. Her son, a  school drop-out, has become very defiant, and possibly on drugs. She expresses relief “to be able to talk without being judged.” Another mother describes her experience when a friend told her to call the Centre. She recounts: “I was very cynical and didn’t think I needed help.  Parents etc. is one of the best doors that I have opened…Sister Theresa made me a cup of tea and then I met with Sister Mary in another room.  I said: ‘My husband left me but I’m fine’ and then I burst into tears. My self-esteem and confidence were very low. A listening ear helped me get out my anger, frustrations and disappointment.” With two sons and an ex-husband, this mother has always faced new problems. Parents etc. enabled her to realise what a good parent she is and has been. Not only the warm welcome, a cup of hot tea, tissues on the table and a willing ‘pair of ears’ but also a little understanding are remedies for reaching the minds and hearts of those in need.

GWNov2015-9aParents and grand-parents spread the word about this Centre, which provides a hands-on approach to what parents can do that is very helpful. Another mother said: “I just walked in off the street and I was welcomed warmly. My stressful problem was something outside of myself, without any control. In trying to resolve my child’s problem at school, I was knocking my head against a brick wall until I met with Sr. Kate.”

Grandmothers come to tell about daughters with drug and alcohol addictions. They seek advice and reassurance as they give full-time care to their grand-children. They experience significant changes in their daily lives and search for advice and counsel.

The Sisters and lay staff know that it is sometimes necessary to access other agencies. Volunteer staff at the Centre supplies necessary information and prepares parents to work with other professionals. These agencies often have long waiting lists. So the speedy support offered by our Centre is a temporary solution.

GWNov2015-9bEach year, a variety of fundraising activities helps to cover essential costs including the property lease, electricity, water, phones and necessary materials. Local people and many Sisters support this ministry in different ways. Some parents help with a Christmas Fair, and are happy to participate in this effort to fund this drop-in centre. Parents etc. offers a friendly, nonthreatening atmosphere and gives assurance of privacy and confidentiality. In providing a listening ear and a non-judgmental approach for people in this city community, the Sisters in Glasgow are strengthening family bonds by this ministry for those facing “critical issues of our time…and other local issues.” (2014 General Chapter Calls)

Reprinted with permission from the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, “Sisters Respond to Local Needs in Glasgow” by Sister Mary Ross, SNDdeN, Good Works, November 2015, pp. 8-9.

GW Nov 2015 Sisters Respond to Local Needs in Glasgow.pdf

Good Works Archives

 

Children in Nicaragua Find Hope

By Sister Rebecca Trujillo, SNDdeN

GWNov2015-cover-300-pxThe Mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) extends to Matagalpa, a small rural town in northern Nicaragua, in a diocesan ministry to families who have children with handicapped conditions. At Special Families of Saint Julie Billiart (Familias Especiales de  Santa Julia Billiart), opened in 1996, families discover that they are not alone in their struggles. Mothers and their children find hope in a different  process for healing. Horses help to heal children. This world-wide treatment is an exclusive rehabilitation therapy, receiving recognition across the globe. Special Families (FE) has advanced this method of healing, without cost, begun in 2002 in a program for more than 500 children from the most deprived neighborhoods. This special therapy gives children with any disability a greater opportunity for physical improvement and social integration.

The family of Don Alvares Reyes,  who owns a horse ranch, supports St. Julie’s Mission of reaching out to vulnerable little ones, “the poor in the most abandoned places.” (SNDdeN Constitutions, #5, and Rule of 1818) Each week, this family reserves for Special Families two GWNov2015-4-600-pxhorses and the use of their property. Gustavo Vallejos and Suhey Meza Vallejos, staff at FE, four days a week, bring mothers and their children with disabilities to this ranch where the children meet Jacaranda and Encantada, two horses which work wonders.

These are no ordinary horses; they belong to an award-winning Spanish breed, treated like professional athletes. In the beginning, Asombrada was the first horse to be a part of the therapy sessions. When retired, she was quickly replaced by Jacaranda and Encantada (almost 30 years old).

Through this therapy,  children who are paralyzed:

  • Begin to develop their muscles 
  • Strengthen control of functioning muscles
  • Lift their heads Start to walk
  • Move arms and legs with less pain

GWNov2015-3b-300-pxDouglas is a paralyzed young boy, who experiences many involuntary body movements. Most of the time, his mother wheels her son, buckled in his chair around the ranch. He becomes a different individual when he is riding his friend, Encantada, a large white horse. But how can a person who is paralyzed ride a horse? Douglas shows such delight on horseback. Now he has some control of his involuntary movements, through this horse therapy because this scientific method uses the muscles of the horse  to develop the corresponding muscles in the human body.

Children begin horse therapy at two years of age. The therapist places the child, lying down on a blanket on the horse’s back. As the horse moves along, she stimulates the child’s outer muscles as well as massages the child’s inner organ muscles. As the muscles get strengthened through movement, the child becomes stronger and develops balance. In this relationship with the horse, children gain confidence knowing  that another living being, a friend, is able to reduce the pain and bring healing.

Autistic children capable of relating to the horses also receive this therapy. The staff at FE has witnessed miracles, when, after several sessions, autistic children hug their fathers for the first time. The horse motivates the child to improve, and being in a farm setting helps both the child and the mothers to relax, an opportunity not often available in their lives.

GWNov2015-3-300pxThis program is part of integrated therapy using a community rehabilitation model in which  groups of mothers with their children join together for sharing sessions. Each child has a specific plan for his/her therapy. FE works with the most vulnerable families who cannot afford to pay. Since having children with disabilities entails much responsibility, Special Families considers active participation and cooperation of the mothers as a form of payment for these families who have just minimal resources. The only titled horse-therapist in Nicaragua, Gustavo Vallejos, studied at Gimbernat University in Barcelona, Spain in an education program funded by Special Families. Then, he trained Suhey Meza Vallejos, another physical therapist. Each year, the University sends groups of  at least 12 graduates in physical therapy to work at FE, as interns learning and experiencing this healing through horse therapy.

Douglas’ mother thanks God each day for Jacaranda and Encantada because they have changed her son’s life by giving him better health and more opportunities for social integration. Mothers in this small rural town in Nicaragua experience the bonding relationship between their children and the two horses, and recognize that “Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other and in service of each other.” (Pope Francis in his Encyclical, Laudato Sí, (#86), from the Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Link to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxW3Jm-9Hug

Reprinted with permission from the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, “Children in Nicaragua Find Hope,” Good Works, pp. 4-7, November 2015.

Familias Especiales (FE)

by Sister Rebecca Trujillo, SNDdeN and Therese Shuler

Familias Especiales de Santa Julia Billiart (FE) is a ministry that goes door-to-door, person-to-person – and crosses national boundaries.

In 1996, the Roman Catholic bishop of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, Leopoldo Brennes, invited the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur to support families who have children with disabilities.

The Bishop explained to Sister Rebecca Trujillo, “I have seen families where a special child is born and the family falls apart and others where the child brings the family closer together and what we want in our dioceses are families who are united through the needs of their children.”

sunflowerSister Rebecca and Marlene Hernandez, the mother of a special-needs child, started a neighborhood effort to find families like Marlene’s with special-needs children. Those first one-to-one relationships have expanded to a comprehensive network of services in Matagalpa and a network of support extending to individuals and organizations in over 12 countries. Through this people-intensive outreach, they identified more than 500 families with special-needs children. The foundation Familias Especiales de Santa Julia Billiart (FE) became a legal entity in Nicaragua in 2001.

The one-on-one visits connect mothers with each other. The majority are single mothers who are heads of households. For the first four years the organization did not have an office or vehicle, but took as its motto the phrase, “You are not alone.” Most mothers were like prisoners in their own homes before Familias Especiale and they did not have a way to express their needs. Through scripture and prayer these mothers began to understand that together they could make a difference.

St.-Julie-Park-of-StarsThe person-to-person aspect of this ministry encompasses spiritual and psychological support, various kinds of therapies, and small-business and job training for these young people and their families, most often their mothers.

“Mother-leaders” have one-to-one contact with other mothers of special-needs children. The mothers, volunteers, and professionals are involved in setting direction for FE and overseeing its programs.

Supporting this extensive network of mothers is an international network including organizations and volunteers from 14 countries.

FE also has a special relationship with universities in Spain, the United States, Switzerland and Finland. These involve an exchange of students who learn from professionals in FE and also support programs economically.

“What we have always done in FE is invite as Jesus did,” says Sister Rebecca. “We say to the mothers ‘You are not alone’ and to volunteers ‘Come and learn with us new ways to be in solidarity and together all of us can make a difference.'”


Excerpted and reprinted with permission from the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, “Familias Especiales” Goes Door-to-Door – And Nation-to-Nation,” Good Works, pp. 4-7, December 2007.