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 | Laurie L. Robinson with Phyllis Steele

Children: God’s Global Treasure

October 17, 2023 | When Phyllis Steele , a member at St. Jerome Catholic Church in Largo,  met children in Tanzania, their lack of clean water and adequate food broke her heart, even though she had expected to confront this reality. What she didn’t expect was to feel that those materially impoverished children were “richer” in some ways than American children.

This is one important reflection Phyllis has had upon return home to her job as administrator at St. Jerome Early Childhood Center in Largo. It’s where she connects with children thousands of miles away from the children she met in July during a Water 4 Mercy delegation to sub-Saharan Africa. The non-profit, founded by CEO Nermine Khouzam Rubin, of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Clearwater, brings water, food, and hope to children and their families.

“I think it is a tragedy that some children don’t have clean water, nutritious food, a sturdy home and a good education,” said Phyllis during an early August telephone interview. “Even though the Tanzanian children I met in the remote villages were lacking material goods, they had a strong sense of community and familial love.”

Likewise, in the US, many children grow up in nurturing environments but there are just as many who don’t get the care they need, Phyllis reflected. So many are impoverished from a lack of morality, an onslaught of gender issues, and a sex trafficking scandal, she said. “Our culture here is being assaulted by the devil in so many different ways that ‘threaten’ them,” Phyllis said.

Neither situation brings the wholeness that God desires within communities around the globe, said Phyllis, a longtime early-childhood educator and mother of four. She is deeply concerned by all types of suffering that stunt the development of little people who gift our world with promise and joy.

“Children … are surprised and delighted by things they see, experience or discover for the first time,” Phyllis said. “It is so rewarding to assist them in their growth and development. Everything you do for a child helps them on that journey of realizing their potential.”

Phyllis believes it is the job of adults to protect and nurture the little ones that society considers “the least among us” – exactly whom Jesus calls us to serve.

“Even though children are playful and joyful, life is never easy or completely carefree, even for a child,” she said. “I think adults are charged with the responsibility of protecting and guiding our little ones. We are supposed to shelter them and love them through the trials that life brings.”

Phyllis is convinced that children are essentially the same in every corner of the world, though the outer realities can differ. She reflected, “They play. They laugh. They ask questions. They want connection with other people – a sense of belonging,” she said. “Children sing and dance and act silly. I think these are just the qualities of being a little human …

“Certainly, their outward circumstances impact their lives, but some things are not affected by geography or culture or economic status. In fact, the joy that is pervasive in children is not dependent on location, beliefs, or material goods.”

Unlike the well-maintained and fully equipped playground equipment at St. Jerome Early Childhood Center, the children the delegation visited in Tanzania had only a dirt courtyard to play in, Phyllis noted. Their soccer ball was a wad of plastic bags tied together with string. “Yet laughter abounded!” Phyllis said. “Smiling faces gave witness to joy.”

Speaking of children, Phyllis had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share Tanzania with her youngest son, Zach, a junior at the University of Tampa. “I never believed that one day I would travel with him to visit Tanzania and to witness the life-changing work of this organization,” Phyllis said. “It was an amazing experience, and I feel so blessed to have shared it with my son. I know our global perspective has broadened and will influence the rest of our lives.”

Indeed, the dignity inherent in God’s creation of every life -- whether it be in her own family or church family or global family -- is why Phyllis wants to share what she experienced in Tanzania with her local community. That includes St. Jerome Catholic Church, her parish to which the school belongs. She wants to continue addressing the needs she saw in Africa as well as to help other North Americans to share their resources toward that end, as well.

“I plan to support Water 4 Mercy in any way that I can,” she said. “This organization offers a solution that is sustainable and empowering through its water, food and hope initiatives in remote African villages. It respects the dignity of people and gives them resources and skills to improve their lives for the long term. …

“I also prayerfully support those who work for justice and change in the economy of Tanzania. A nation rich in natural resources should employ and benefit its native people. Exploitation of the vulnerable is not acceptable.”

Phyllis is helping to plan some fundraising-educational events at her parish and the wider community. She wants to provide opportunities for people to give material gifts as well as to be educated about cultures around the world that experience economic injustice, “Jesus is the only one who can turn water into wine,” she said. “At some future wine-tasting fundraisers, I want to give people opportunities to help change wine into water – as in donations for Water 4 Mercy.”  Photos available.

For more information about Water 4 Mercy or to donate to the mission, go to

Father Tom Anastasia, pastor at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Clearwater, provides Mass for members of a Water 4 Mercy delegation to Tanzania in July. Assisting him is delegate Ellen Holmes Steeves-LeBlanc of New Bern, North Carolina. Nermi
Phyllis Steele, of St. Jerome Catholic Church in Largo, plays ball with a school boy during her participation in a Water 4 Mercy delegation to Tanzania in July. Nermine Khouzam Rubin, of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Clearwater, founded t

Laurie L. Robinson, a Catholic freelance writer in Newton, Kansas, met Phyllis on the delegate trip to Tanzania.