It’s official! Mercy Tech Mission is back on the road again, after a 2-year break due to travel restrictions, and our destination is Eswatini, Africa. We are very excited to be returning to Project Canaan, where we are partnering with Heart for Africa at their farm and children’s home.
Not too long ago I ran into an acquaintance outside the local Tim Hortons, and he asked me (somewhat facetiously…I think), “So what’s happening with your mission? Is it down the tubes because of Covid-19? Like, is it all washed up now that you can’t travel?” I declined to buy him a coffee, but I assured him Mercy Tech was alive and well.
But I know that some of you have been wondering the same thing, as it has been a while since our last update. So as 2021 begins, I want to give you a snapshot of where Mercy Tech Mission is at.
Greetings to all of you who have been following and supporting the ongoing work of Mercy Tech Mission. As you know, our mission is to improve the economic situations of those living in poverty by teaching them employable skills, and our most recent trip to Africa in February 2020 was a clear example of that.
Our training this time focused on mechanics, both heavy duty and regular; wood lathe turning; electrical training, with a special project to install computer networking in the primary school; industrial electrical training with a focus on electric motors and water pumps; agricultural techniques, including irrigation maintenance; farm machinery repair. Some of our volunteers also helped out at the children’s campus, did data entry for the medical clinic, and assisted with early childhood education training in the primary school classrooms.
Judging by the wear on my suitcase and the proliferation of stamps in my passport, a lot has happened since my last mission update in October 2018. Time does fly.
In November, it was 10 days in the Baja with veteran volunteer instructor Todd Green for another round of mechanics training at Los Olivos, the One Life One Chance mission base in San Quintin. We also began looking at possible expansion ideas for the program in Mexico, as we would like to see more students taking advantage of the training we offer.
I was reminded recently that there hasn’t been an update from Mercy Tech Mission for a while – since last June, to be exact – and I can only hide behind the excuse that it’s been an extremely busy summer for me since returning home from Africa. As some of you may know, when I’m not travelling with Mercy Tech Mission, I am busy running a small renovation business here in the Okanagan Valley, and this year has been busier than most. But the fall season is well upon us and there are a number of upcoming trips that I need to tell you about.
Due to some new government regulations, I had a difficult time getting myself a sim card for my phone when I first arrived in Swaziland. After two weeks of frustration I was finally able to make some progress at a local phone store in nearby Tricash. The application process is a lengthy one, and while I was waiting for her assistant to do the paperwork, the store clerk asked me why I was visiting the area. I explained about Mercy Tech and how my team of volunteers had come to teach employable trades to the local people. She asked me if this was my job and did my team get paid. I said no, we’re volunteers; we don’t get paid to do this.
She stared at me. “You don’t get paid?”
During the recent winter Olympics in South Korea, the world’s attention was on the athletes who have trained so hard for a chance to show their skills to the world, and potentially qualify for a medal – preferably gold.
Gold, silver, bronze – they are all medals of distinction for the winners and out of all who compete, very few contestants receive them. Yet my wife made the observation that in certain situations (such as a hockey game, eh?), “winning” silver actually means you’ve lost the game. And when you see the disappointment on the team faces, you’d almost think that a silver medal was a disgrace. It’s funny how something so unattainable for most of us can carry such a weight of regret for others.
Many of you have been following the ongoing activities of Mercy Tech Mission for quite some time now, and it occurred to me the other day that it’s time I shared with you the honest truth.
Okay, I’ll bet you weren’t expecting me to say that.
No, I haven’t been telling lies in the past, and I’m also not referring to what recent politicians have labeled as “alternative facts”. (And actually, if you think about it, the phrase ‘the honest truth’ doesn’t really make sense unless there really is something we could call ‘dishonest truth’. But I digress...)
The truths that I’m referring to are the small but important things that go on behind, or perhaps along with, the larger events that occur...
It has been one month since returning from our most recent trip to southern Africa, where a team of six instructors taught such skills as mechanics (both light and heavy duty), welding, fabricating, and some service procedures on power generating equipment at Project Canaan, the Heart for Africa mission base in Swaziland. One of the team members was Justin Taylor, who at 22 years old has been our youngest volunteer instructor to date. Justin shared his thoughts with us about the trip in a summary letter and we want to share it with you. As you will see, the Mercy Tech training trips not only impact the students, but the volunteer instructors as well. Thanks again for continuing to partner with us in what we believe to be life-changing work. Mercy Tech Mission: Changing lives, one skill at a time.
“You have to choose which language you will use.”
This is what my Kenyan friend Denis Musyoka said to me as we discussed the problems of trying to make progress in a culture that is a lot more laid-back than what we are used to in North America.
One of our very first automotive students, Prosper Fernando from Mozambique, was invited down to our training location at the Heart for Africa base in Swaziland to help teach for a week this past April. Thank you to everyone who played a part, big or small, in helping a young man with a limited future become what and who he is today.
Here is Prosper's own words describing his experience:
Through an oversight in planning, we had a slow start in Swaziland by arriving on Easter Weekend. The normally-quick border crossing took over 2 hours because of all the Easter travellers, and then the students were away for two days of holidays as well. But the lull in the action gave us time to set up some equipment and get ourselves prepared for the training sessions. Here is an account of our first week from one of our volunteers, Phil Cote:
It’s no secret that travel is a big part of Mercy Tech Mission – before we can share our skills, we have to go to where the students are.
That, of course, sounds pretty obvious, but when you stop and consider how many miles MTM volunteers have put on since we began travelling in 2011, it’s mind-boggling. By the time you read this, there will have been over 18 trips to places like Mozambique, Swaziland and the Baja, with over 20 different volunteers taking part.
Another successful week of training has just been completed at our San Quintin location in the California Baja. Aaron Rustenburg from Paul’s Auto Service in St. Catharines, Ontario and Rick Cogbill of Mercy Tech Mission have just returned with reports that the mechanics training program at the One Life One Chance mission base is really gaining traction.
Every stage of a Mercy Tech mission trip – from planning to execution to wrap-up – has its own set of challenges, but I find the final days on location to be the most complex stage of all.
It’s a bittersweet time: wishing you had more time to finish a training session or project, yet feeling the weariness of living out of a suitcase; finding it hard to say goodbye to new friends while missing your family back home; trying to confirm a flight on a sketchy internet connection while people are already asking when you’re coming back. It’s not unusual to feel like you’ve accomplished so much, and yet still be aware that there is so much more left to do. It’s at these times that I remember the wise advice of my wife Nan: “See before you the things you can do, not the things you can’t.”
One thing that makes a Mercy Tech mission trip so interesting is that you’re never quite sure what you’ll be doing once you get there. Yes, we come to teach skills so that people can be gainfully employed, but the exact form of that training will be shaped by what you find “on the ground” when you arrive.
Since our early beginnings in 2011, Mercy Tech Mission has completed 6 trips to Africa and 7 trips to the Baja. On each trip our volunteer instructors have taught the basics of employable trades, such as automotive mechanics, concrete finishing, construction and woodworking, wiring and electrical installation, and welding. Now it's May 2016, and our 14th trip begins as I and volunteer Craig Skinner (welder and millwright) leave for Swaziland in Southern Africa. We’ll spend the month of May sharing our knowledge with the local workers at the Heart for Africa mission base, and we're looking forward to it.
I’m sitting in a friend’s garden filled with beautiful South African flowers and a bunch of somewhat noisy birds. If you know my writing habits you’ll know I need absolute silence in order to concentrate. But that’s not going to happen, so count yourself lucky – it means this update will have more photos than words!
Memorable firsts – there’s always a first time for everything.
Some of those “firsts” we recall vividly and some we don’t remember at all. Maybe we were too young or maybe we were just distracted by something else. But those first time exposures can impact us for a lifetime.
It has been humbling to look back over just a few short years (since 2011) and see how the work and influence of Mercy Tech Mission has grown. I hope you have enjoyed hearing directly from Prosper in the previous blogs. In case you missed them, you can check them out at these links: Point of View Part 1 and Point of View Part 2.
In our last post, we shared an article written by Prospa Fernando, the 23-year-old shop manager at the maintenance shop located on the ASAM mission base in Mozambique. It was written just after he was hired for the position, and gives a good idea of his sense of calling to his work. If you missed it, you can read it here.
Mercy Tech Mission has been co-sponsoring Prosper at this position over the past two years, and part of his duties include sending us monthly reports and updates on the work he’s been doing. We thought you’d find it interesting to read about his “daily grind.”
When life happens, we tend to think it only happens one way – the way that we see it.
But in reality life happens differently for each of us. Over the next few blog posts, I want to share with you how the work of Mercy Tech Mission has “happened” to someone who has been on the receiving end – in particular, to Prosper Fernando, who is one of our original students. And I want you to hear it in his own words.
For most people, summer is a time to get away from it all. Who could turn down a tropical beach with friends or family? But for Mercy Tech Mission, summer’s also a great time to get right into it all.
And what is “it all” about? Yup, it’s changing lives, one skill at a time.