“We come together to take charge of this home, which has been entrusted to us.”
–Laudato Si', 244
The SOAR program started on a wing and a prayer—a dream to eliminate the mounds of plastic waste polluting the city of Kasoa, Ghana, and at the same time provide an opportunity for impoverished residents to earn an income. SOAR (Sisters Organizing and Advancing Recycling) would be a beautiful way for Holy Cross sisters to respond to Pope Francis’ call in Laudato Si' to “care for our common home” while addressing two vital social justice issues.
Could it be done? The sisters’ Justice Committee for Ghana, at the direction of coordinator Sister Comfort Arthur, CSC, carefully analyzed and considered the project's social, economic and cultural implications. Finding much potential, the committee in November 2017 gave its blessing to SOAR as a pilot program.
Recycling plastic waste
Four years after its humble beginning, SOAR is reaching incredible heights. Through its first 34 months, the fledgling program collected 15,000 lbs. of plastic waste. In the next eight months, SOAR more than doubled that amount to 33,000 lbs. That is a huge amount of plastic that will no longer clog drainage systems, where it can lead to standing water that increases the spread of deadly disease.
Advancements have come in other areas, too. Early on, SOAR opened with seven collection points in Kasoa. Today, the program boasts 33 collection hubs at six parishes and 11 schools in three cities—Kasoa, Cape Coast and Takoradi. Many of the schools—where 3,600 students volunteer with the program—hold friendly competitions to see which can collect the most plastic waste. The students are enthusiastic. They take home their learnings on environmental issues and personal responsibility, sharing this new knowledge with family, friends and neighbors.
Chipping away at poverty and pollution
The numbers are one way to gauge the success of SOAR. A better measure, however, is to consider the program’s impact on the people who benefit from it. Like Auntie Grace. Grace is slight of frame, 60 years old, and has three children. She sold charcoal and cleaned a local church to provide for her family. But it was not enough. As part of a group of 50 women and 25 men, she now earns a small income to help with rent, food, medicine and other needs. These 75 individuals collect the plastic and sort, clean and bag it. SOAR now has two trucks in its fleet and employs drivers to haul the bags to processing plants, which pay for the material.
Much potential still lies ahead. The sisters are now exploring alternatives for processing the plastic waste. They hope to heighten the program’s impact on both the Earth and the people who benefit from it. One option may involve using 3D printers to create a variety of simple consumer products from the waste. These products could open up entrepreneurship opportunities for women and lead to skills-based training in emerging technologies—a chance for self-sustenance.
SOAR is a phenomenal program, and it has the potential to be replicated in other areas where Holy Cross sisters minister. It is also aligned with the Congregation’s Carbon Footprint Reduction Fund, which in 2020 was singled out by the Vatican as a “good practice” in “Journeying Towards Care for Our Common Home: Five Years After Laudato Si'” (p. 208).
Through SOAR, Sister Comfort and the Justice Committee envision the cities of Kasoa, Cape Coast and Takoradi becoming more environmentally healthy. The sisters are hopeful that as the program soars so, too, will the country and its people.
With much appreciation
“On behalf of my sisters and SOAR, I would like to say a big thank you for supporting the work we do in building the kingdom of God here on earth,” said Sister Comfort. “SOAR would not be where it is now without your assistance in helping people—especially those who are poor—earn money to support their families. The sisters and the people we help are very grateful for your generosity. May God continue to bless you and your families and grant you all the graces you need in your endeavors.”
Fruits of Holy Cross
Every month, Fruits of Holy Cross shares the good news of the ministries of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. Our “fruits” are nourished not just by the sisters’ labors or the seed of faith planted by our founder Blessed Basil Anthony Moreau, they are watered by our many prayer partners, donors and benefactors—by you.
Several active partners have made this ministry possible. The Sisters of the Holy Cross extend their gratefulness to the Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities, Loyola Foundation, Linehan Family Foundation, Dodds Family Charitable Foundation, and you—without whom this dream would not have taken flight. In the coming year, SOAR is partnering with the Conrad N. Hilton Fund for Sisters to continue its expansion, which will include educational outreach to the wider community.
SOAR launched with just the most basic of resources. Along the way, the partners noted above helped it grow … and grow. Now, even more growth is envisioned. If you would like start or continue to be a part of this compassionate and fulfilling venture—or help in supporting other Ministry With the Poor Fund projects—please join us. Our Support Us page will tell you how.