Heidi Cerneka

Year Joined MKLM: 1996
Country: Kenya
City: Mombasa and Nairobi
Focus: Civil & Human Rights
Project(s): Pastoral and legal projects
People Served: Women
Project Goal(s): To help women involved in the criminal justice system, human trafficking, and domestic violence

Personal Data
Heidi claims both St. Louis, Missouri and Chicago as home. She joined MKLM in 1996. Before that, she worked in campus ministry at Loyola University Chicago. She also has experience working with women in situations of substance abuse and domestic violence. In addition, Heidi spent two years in Belize working with the Jesuit Volunteers. Heidi received her degrees at St. Mary’s College in South Bend, IN, and Loyola University, Chicago.

Past MKLM Ministry
Heidi lived and worked in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Her primary ministry since her arrival there in 1997 has been with women. Initially, she worked with women in prostitution, and eventually she began working full-time with justice-involved women in the jails and prisons of Brazil. She served with both the National Prison Pastoral Ministry- associated with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference- as well as with a nongovernmental organization, the Institute for Land, Work, and Citizenship. Heidi worked on public policy and human rights issues for all people in prison, and for their families, but she developed a specific ministry with women in prison, because women are generally overlooked in prison policy and advocacy. She provided direct pastoral support to women prisoners through regular visits, and she networked with local, state and national governmental and nongovernmental organizations. They affected change in the treatment of women, the hearing of their cases, and opportunities for alternative sentencing, and at the same time, addressed larger issues related to crime, drug, and human trafficking, identifying patterns that repeat from country to country. Additionally, Heidi participated in United Nations expert working groups to develop Standard Minimum Rules for the treatment of women (Bangkok Rules), and the revision of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of all prisoners (Mandela Rules).

Current Ministry:
Heidi’s current ministry in Kenya will continue her work with justice-involved women, engaging with local organizations in Mombasa and Nairobi. She will use her law degree to work with pastoral and legal projects to help women involved in the criminal justice system, human trafficking, and domestic violence.