For proof that every penny can make a difference, check out the first-year success of a fundraising effort at St. Mary’s Southside Parish in Elmira.
With a slogan of “Your Change Brings Change,” the Malawi Hope project was launched in early 2006 to provide awareness of and aid to Malawi, an impoverished country in southeast Africa.According to David Biviano, committee chair, overall donations as of late March 2007 had totaled approximately $11,400 — not bad considering that most of the funds are collected via loose-change containers near the church entrance.
“It really was an unknown proposition when we first began. Personally I know there are a core of constant contributors, as well as a whole variety of occasional contributors. There’s a consistency to the program which is just overwhelming, I think, and shows the generosity of the people in the parish,” Biviano said. “They have just really been so open to the notion of helping people outside our community borders and national borders, and recognize these people are facing such overwhelming difficulties that you just can’t turn your face away when you become aware of it.”
Money from Malawi Hope has been supporting a Catholic Relief Services project that includes medical treatment of those afflicted with HIV/AIDS; education about HIV/AIDS in an effort to reduce transmission of the disease, particularly among youths; improving food supplies; establishing child-care centers; and providing access to improved water and sanitation. St. Mary’s is partnered with the Diocese of Dedza, where trained CRS volunteers go into villages. Biviano noted that St. Mary’s is working toward establishing direct e-mail contact with the CRS representatives, so that Malawi Hope supporters in Elmira can keep updated on how funds are being used.
The need for funding and greater awareness is profound. Biviano said his research shows that Malawi is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world, with an annual income of $176 per person; nearly 10 percent of its 12 million residents are living with AIDS, and many are affected by malaria as well; a famine has left no food in 70 percent to 80 percent of the country; the water supply is inadequate; more than half of Malawi’s population is under age 15, and one out of every three children under 15 is an orphan due to decreasing life expectancies; the government has just $12 per person per year to spend on health care; and the ratio of people to doctors is 117,000 to 1.
“When you’re facing such an overwhelming convergence of problems, what they have isn’t enough to turn them around,” Biviano said, adding that “these people in these situations have no security blanket. There are no national organizations or volunteer agencies to provide support that we just take for granted. We really can’t be apathetic when we hear about it.”
Biviano had first learned about Malawi through a 2006 Catholic Charities presentation, in conjunction with a yearlong educational focus on Africa by the diocesan Public Policy Committee.
Several donations have come from outside St. Mary’s as well as within the parish. Tax-deductible gifts are welcomed and may be mailed to St. Mary’s Church, 224 Franklin St., Elmira, NY 14904. Checks should be made out to “St. Mary’s Church — Malawi Hope.” Further information about the project may be found on the parish Web site (www.stmaryssouthside.org) or by calling St. Mary’s at 607/734-6254.