You are here: > Home > Parish > Missions

Mercy House and its work

This is the first account we published of Mercy House - there is the November 2006 update available and others are progressively updated in Diana's reports."Mercy House - a little bit of Heaven on this earth". and, in 2009, a new website designed by a resident with IT training. (see index)

Mercy House has sent St Richard’s website team a stream of e-mails with remarkable stories of refugees who found safety and new hope at a modest single storey building in Johannesburg.

Mercy House
Mercy House - 82 North Avenue, Bez Valley, Johannesburg.
It houses 25 refugees - all have benefited from donations made in recent years by parishioners at St Richard’s.

The founder is Diana Beamish, whose story and achievement, elicited from her e-mails, is quite as notable as those of her protégés. Her support team includes helpers from USA and Europe. She was visited by Gerald and Judy McGregor – and David Rang, from St Richards.

Diana with Dr Martin She proudly sent this picture of a triumph for Mercy House. Diana was present when Martin Kalenga, once a refugee, then resident at Mercy House,. graduated as a doctor of medicine. More of his story later.

Diana’s family roots lie in nineteenth century England and Ireland (her great grandfather was a barrister), but she is a South African teacher and lecturer in English, tackling other part time work to fund her passionate commitment to help refugees from the wars in Africa. These conflicts were once in the tv news headlines – then left to history - Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Angola and currently the Congo, still at war. The human collateral damage is immense and remains.

Shanty at mine It was in the mid 90’s that Diana visited a squatters’ settlement at Angelo. She found a hundred refugees living in squalor. (Martin Kalenga was among them). There was no water, no electricity and refuse was never removed. Rats crawled over the refugees as they slept - on concrete. No windows, roofs leaked. Diana was stunned and stimulated - "Life has never been the same since that day!"

Diana purchased a place in Johannesburg and a stream of refugees moved in, found guidance and moved on to make their way in the world. Most are youngsters orphaned in the wars of Central Africa.

Bina and Shadadi Their youngest resident (in 2006) was a few months old, and the youngest orphan, Shadadi, was born in 1993. He was only a baby when he and his ten year old brother Bina fled from the war zone. In the long trek, south through Central Africa, he was being carried on Bina’s back when they lost their family. The Jesuit Refugee Service asked Mercy House to take them in. They hope one day to be reunited with members of their families. Diana says "Shadadi is doing brilliantly at school and is also an outstanding athlete". He won a medal presented by Diana. Shadadi was helped by donations from St Philip’s Catholic High School. See update "Mercy House - a little bit of Heaven on this earth" November 2006.
Diana and Bina Their credentials are checked, and some find a genuine home, where they feel part of a family and experience some relief and healing from the terrible anxiety of the past. Diana says that Mercy House is not financed by any particular organisation, but relies on assistance mainly from "church persons" or groups.

Three more poignant case histories are highlighted by Diana, underlining the value of Mercy House.

Jean – from Rwanda

"In March 2000 a young man – Jean - arrived from Rwanda. He brought a small plastic bag, holding his entire earthly possessions. In the office he told his story, perhaps for the first time. His body began to shake uncontrollably and he cried. It was very hard to watch. Amid the genocide his parents died. He stayed with his granny, who also was killed. He moved to his married sister – she was killed, together with her husband and both her children. He was alone. By a miracle he got to Johannesburg and someone told him about Mercy House. Thanks to St Richard’s church in England, we were able to put Jean through a catering course at the Technical College and he is now employed by the Good Shepherd Sisters as their caterer."

Wilson from Sudan – the day the phone rang

"Sunday 13 April 2003 was a most momentous day in the life of a young man, Wilson, whose life had been marred by immense suffering. On this day his whole life was placed on a new footing and once again he has enthusiasm and hope.

He is now 24 years old. When he was 12, he and his friends were taken from the street in their home town and tortured until they agreed to become child soldiers. They were trained by rebels in Ethiopia and sent into battle. Wilson escaped and went home, trying to find his mother and family, without success. By God’s kindness, he came across some fellow-countrymen who advised him to seek help at Mercy House in South Africa. He was found work as a waiter, then as a gardener. He thrived on self help and found accommodation. On 23rd February 2003, he felt God’s merciful kindness break into his life. A fellow countryman heard that Wilson’s mother and brother and sisters were in a refugee camp in Uganda. Wilson asked this man if he could try to get his family to his telephone on Sunday 13th April.

Wilson bought R200 worth of telephone coupons for the public phone. He got through at 3.30 p.m. To his utter amazement it was the voice of his father, whom he had not seen for 15 years. He spoke to his sister who had been four years old when he last saw her and who was now sixteen. His whole life has changed. Now his great wish is try to get to the refugee camp where his family is. We ask all to pray that this momentous happening will come and come soon.( Happily, Wilson is married (2006)."

The Amazing Story of Martin Kalenga – from refugee to qualified doctor

Martin Kalenga"Martin Kalenga was an Angolan medical student who had to flee in his third year because the war closed his country’s medical school

Martin came to South Africa, and settled at the squatters' camp. The broken down houses had no windows and doors; there was no garbage collection, so rubbish was piled up shoulder high in very large areas of the settlement. Flies were found everywhere and rats used to climb over them and their food at night. There was no electricity and even the water supply was cut.

It was in these circumstances, that I, Diana Beamish, found Martin. In February 1996, he became one of the first residents of our newly created Mercy House. Now his great dream still hung over his head. At the time he wrote: "I cannot believe that at 27, and having studied for so long, I still have not achieved my longing: I don’t know how to get into a university and who would pay fees."

After much effort I managed to get Martin into Medunsa University. Who would pay the fees? Martin had started sitting on pavements and sold belts, bags and tackies. With this he could manage to pay rent for a room and for meagre food supplies, but the fees was the problem. I took a great chance: I lent him the money, which I had been saving up towards buying a new car, for academic fees for his first year: R15000.00, not knowing, of course, if and how he could ever repay it! He completed his first year and did well, in spite of the fact that he had to spend every weekend and holidays sitting on the street selling. He used to have his text books and files beside him and, in between selling, he would study. When it came to second year, there was again no money for fees and this time I was not able to help. Martin’s faith was unbelievable. He returned to lectures without knowing where or how he would ever get the money for the fees. He insisted that God would care, in spite of insistent advice from myself that he should not go on!

In the meantime I got in contact with the United Nations Refugee Office. I tried and prayed, not giving up. The miracle happened: they agreed to take him on as one of their bursary students, and even repaid the loan which he had taken for his first year. Martin went from strength to strength. He was able to move into residence. On 6 October 2002 Martin graduated as a doctor of medicine.

Martin with diploma His joy was indescribable. He is now doing his 2 years of community service at a government hospital and hopes to specialise next year. He is one of the best pages in the Mercy House "Brag Book".

Martin with DianaAnd he’s not alone. In the background is Pasquale, who was a displaced second year student in Sudan. When he came to Mercy House he had nowhere to sleep and was cutting hair on the street for survival. Diana’s school raised money from the Deb’s Ball to pay his fees and St Richards also helped him. He graduated BSc with Honours and is now doing Masters. He and Martin are good friends."

Martin wrote to me this month "I would like to share my experiences as a refugee with all interested in humanity, all who wish to make a difference in the lives of desperate people – having, for some time, been one of these, myself.

I left Angola due to the turmoil of war and came to South Africa. Once here, I had no relatives, no friends and no money, not even for food. By God’s mercy I survived – through meeting some angels. First I met some excellent fellow countrymen who were in the same plight. They introduced me to 'Sister' Diana Beamish. This event changed my life completely – turned it "down side up". She went all out to help me to fulfil my life's dream to become a doctor and I began to see light at the end of the tunnel. She took risks that not even one's closest relatives would take to enable me to get where I am today.

I was amongst the very first inhabitants of Mercy House, which Diana bought for us. Now, hundreds of refugees have passed through it or been assisted in other ways from there. Mercy House has made a difference in the lives of countless numbers of refugees in desperate situations. I would like to assure anyone who considers helping Mercy House that their assistance will certainly be going to a worthy cause.

Written by Dr Martin Kalenga, Gordonia Hospital, Private Bag X5888, Upington 8800, South Africa".

SOME MERCY HOUSE ACHIEVEMENTS updated March 2011

Visitors to this website can share the pride of the Mercy House team, who have listed some little known achievements, enabling promising young people to qualify professionally, the better to serve their communities.
1. When Mercy House started in 1996, it accommodated 5 Ethiopian doctors who were totally stranded at the time, as they did not have registration with the SA medical council and it took us 2 years to persuade the SA Medical Council to set an exam for them.. They wrote it and all of them are happily working as doctors now, one even in the United States.
2. Through the support and mediation of Mercy House, we have enabled 2 young men, Angolan Martin, and Sudanese, Emmanuel, to get through the SA University Medical training: they are now qualified doctors doing extremely well. Both are now training to be specialists - Emmanuel is becoming a cardiologist and Martin is specialising in gynaecology. Burundian Shadadi, is currently studying to be a Clinical Medical Practitioner at Wits Medical school. Sudanese orphan Felix, is currently doing a 4 year degree at the University of Johannesburg in Medical Research.
3. We have assisted in getting bursaries for 8 refugees to do a Bachelor Degree in Education at KZN college in Kwazulu, 1 who is still studying, the rest qualified and working, 3 back in Sudan.
4. We have managed to get bursaries for university degrees in engineering for 5 of our young men, four of whom are already qualified and working in companies. A large number of other have studied engineering at the local Technical College.
5. We have managed to put a large number of children into school: for example Shadadi (Burundi) and Dibaba and Peter (both DRC), Newton, Kenny got bursaries to study at an excellent school private school. John is head boy of his school this year, and Shadadi was a deputy head last year and is already at university.
6. We managed to get bursaries for Peter and Samuel (Sudanese) to do a 2 year course in Accounting. They have since returned to Sudan where they are using their expertise.
7. Kaskil, Kika, Bebe, Festus, have done courses in home nursing which enabled them to get work and JP and Donatien are currently third year nursing training.
8. Several of our young people enrolled to do a 3 year film making course. Emmanuel did it and is now employed by a highly reputable film company.
9. We have enabled a number of refugees to do Information Technology courses at the local Technical College.
10. Chrysostom graduated with a law degree. He had come to us with only 1 small plastic bag at the time of the genocide, in 1996, we assisted him to fulfil his dream.
11. Over the 12 years of our existence, we have enabled countless people to get employment, quite an achievement when in a country where the unemployment is very high and where there is also a lot of Xenophobia.
12. We have been able to set up several individuals and families with businesses that enable them survive.
13. By far the greatest achievement of Mercy House has been the healing and transformation that we see. Young people come to us, desperate, their lives in tatters, and through creating a family atmosphere (which, mostly, they have sadly missed) and through the healing power of unconditional love, they really do become new human beings! The message is quite clear: no amount of counselling. psychotherapy etc is as powerful as the healing power of love. This is what has made Mercy House so successful and God is with us!

You can contribute direct or receive more information from Diana on diana.beamish@absamail.co.za

Grad team