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.
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:
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.
It’s been 2 ½ weeks since I returned from southern Africa, and a whole month since my last blog update. Where do the
days go? It was a profitable trip in so many ways, but I have to say it is nice to be back home, even if it’s only for a break