Jackie Pallas tells about her work as National Secretary of the Society of Missionary Children, and how it links children in Ireland with children in Africa in helping and praying for one another.
Do you remember bringing in a penny to school for the ‘black babies’ when you were a child? For me, this is a vivid memory. So too, was bringing in a penny to pierce a bead on a rosary which was printed on a little card. Once all of the beads were pierced you could then choose a Christian name for a child in Africa.
Although the Society of Missionary Children was commonly associated with helping black babies, today the society is concerned with children helping children around the world. Children pray and share together through the Society in over 100 countries worldwide.
In 2003 I began working directly for the Society of Missionary Children, one of the four Pontifical Mission Societies. I was amazed to discover that children are still participating in this little-known charity. One of the fundamental characteristics of the Society lies in its ability to raise awareness and understanding of mission among children. It encourages children to share with and pray for children around the world in developing countries. The Society is 164 years old, which makes it the oldest children’s charity in the world where children help children.
There are currently 1,138 schools throughout the island of Ireland who receive our publications. These publications include a newsletter each school term along with our various project materials. Of the 1,138 schools, 550 support the work of the society on a regular basis. I visit as many schools as possible, encouraging children to be aware of how other children in developing countries live – and very often struggle to live.
Through story-telling and photographs, Irish children become aware that not every child in the world has been blessed with clean drinking water, nutritious meals and a safe family home. I have noticed a real curiosity and fascination among Irish children towards children in developing countries. I try to impress upon them the importance of prayer for each other. I have found the gift of prayer is so precious among the children I meet both in Ireland and on mission visits; they tell me how much they enjoy being part of a circle of prayer. The reality is that some children possess so little that the only gift they can offer to other children are their prayers.
Every year the society receives a report from each project it has supported in that year. Occasionally a letter might accompany a report which has been written by a child who has benefited through the society. These letters provide a source of inspiration for me and for Irish children supporting the charity. They play a vital role in the realization that these are real children with real problems.
Part of my work involves visiting some of the projects the society supports. In October 2007, I visited Uganda with three European colleagues. While there, we visited the Kankobe Children’s Home which is located fifty miles outside Kampala and has received support from the Society. The home caters for the spiritual and material needs of seventy-three children, boys and girls, up to twelve years old. Each one of these children was abandoned as a baby or orphaned by HIV/AIDS. We were particularly touched by these children and agreed that they were the most intelligent, well-adjusted children we had met while in Uganda.
Just as the Irish children are curious about children in Africa, these boys and girls were full of questions about our children. They told us of their ambitions for the future and how they were studying very hard to achieve their goals. The missionary sisters who cared for them truly loved each one of them and it showed. The Kankobe Children’s Home is a remarkable success story and provides the society with inspiration and encouragement for its future as a charity that makes a real and positive difference.
On 12 October 2007 the Society of Missionary Children celebrated its first ever National Day of Prayer for Children. Our Liturgy Leaflet, Mission Rosary Beads, and Mass for Children in Need were sent to schools across Ireland and were very well received. The event was welcomed by the Irish Bishops’ Conference with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin attending the launch with children from Gardiner Street National School, Dublin. Our National Day of Prayer in 2008 will be celebrated on 10 October and we are hoping for many more children to participate.
In 2008 and indeed into future years, I hope that more and more children participate in this wonderful and vibrant charity. I am so grateful to all the wonderful teachers across Ireland who actively support mission
awareness in schools. Without these dedicated teachers, the Society of Missionary Children could disappear from our schools as the number of religious diminish. In an age when charity is big business, the society remains determined to survive, thanks to the continued support of teachers, parents and pupils of Ireland.
If you are interested in learning more about the Society of Missionary Children, please contact me on 01 497 2035 or email [email protected] You can also log on to our website: www.missionsocieties.ie
This article first appeared in The Messenger (May 2008), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.