Sister Meredith Evans firmly believes in the power of collaboration and kindness to help others.
The Sister of Mercy has been named 2024 Senior Australian of the Year for South Australia for dedicating her life to helping the vulnerable and inspiring others to do the same.
In 2019, she helped form Young Mercy Links SA - a network of young people passionate about social justice, advocacy and education.
The Underdale resident helped re-establish Justice for Refugees SA, advocating with and for people seeking asylum and refugees in Australia. After four years of accompanying people who lived at the Immigration Detention Centre in the Adelaide Hills, who moved to Adelaide to start a new life, she partnered with like-minded people to start a new Circle of Friends in Adelaide, providing on the ground support and friendship for new arrivals.
Sister Meredith's care has extended abroad, engaging people to contribute to the work of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The service provides newly-built homes for people with a landmine injury and their families. This year Meredith will accompany 14 young adults who are contributing their finances and labour to build another house which costs around $9000.
She has a philosophy centred on her belief that "I am because you are, and I am because we are, together", which has somehow been ingrained into her approach to life.
"We are not meant to be solitary human beings - we are called to be in relationship with others and in doing so, amazing possibilities emerge. Together we can make a difference in our world."
"I know the young people that I work with see me coming and they say 'look out, Meredith's on your trail'; but it's in recognising that everyone can do something to make a difference in this world. It's not just me and it's not just you; it's us together."
She also believes it's young people who are key to other young people discovering what's important in life.
"Older people can be mentors, but it's young people who have got a hope, a vision, an aspiration that empowers."
With the World Health Organisation declaring loneliness as a pressing global health threat, Meredith said seeing ourselves as contributing to others can help our own well being and sense of satisfaction.
An example of this has been seeing members - particularly youth - from various groups she's been working with help build houses in Cambodia.
"The young people that go to Cambodia see another world - of people struggling to raise families, feed, clothe and educate their children and live with many little financial means," she said.
"And yet, the people we have met give us so much in the way that they see life living in rural communities as subsistent workers in the rice fields.
"They can teach us so much of what it means to be human."
The Sisters of Mercy live in the community and engage with the people they serve.
Meredith's path started in the late 1960s. Whilst happily involved with other Christian groups, she felt a strong call to dedicate herself to a life of service. She was influenced by Sister Patricia Pak-Poy, a teacher (and later principal) at St Aloysius College in Adelaide, whom she met at a leadership formation event.
"Pat spoke about the value of what it means to live a fulfilling and flourishing life and I thought she made a lot of sense," she said.
Meredith later joined the Sisters of Mercy, an institute started by Catherine McAuley during the Great Famine in Ireland in the 1800s. Catherine established schools throughout Ireland to educate and care for children during this time.
"Catherine was an inspiring figure - a risk taker, a visionary and a community builder," she said. I have learnt a lot from her and have had her as a model for whatever challenges have come my way ever since I joined the Sisters of Mercy," Meredith said.
Meredith has worked with young people through the Young Christian Workers Movement and the Young Christian Students Movement when she was engaged in community development in Morphett Vale, and more lately through Young Mercy Links SA.
In the 1970s, Adelaide's southern suburbs were exploding and Meredith noticed there were few options, particularly for women caring for young children, to either have opportunities or to socialise outside of their homes. She, along with other like-minded women, set up Vale Arts and Crafts at Hackham, to provide some recreational possibilities for women at that time.
"We wanted to say to the women ... 'we are here with you, you count. Let's join in activities together'."
Many of the projects Meredith has been involved in over the years have since grown from that ethos and approach always seeing ways of encouraging new possibilities for people.
"I think of how we create some new possibilities for people; that's been my theme for my life really."
Meredith said for her line of work and for people in the community, it's not about being a Martyr, but just giving what you can, which can make a difference to other people's lives.
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