Plans needed to change

Rick Cogbill of Mercy Tech Mission teaches automotive repair to students in rural Africa. Some of the students in this year’s classes were also in the program last year. - Photo submitted
Rick Cogbill of Mercy Tech Mission teaches automotive repair to students in rural Africa. Some of the students in this year’s classes were also in the program last year.
— image credit: Photo submitted

It can be frustrating when things don’t go according to plan.

We plot; we prepare; we lay it all out in our minds how the day is going to go. But here in rural Africa, one has to think differently. You can plan all you want, but only one thing is for sure – it won’t go down the way you thought it would.

My automotive training program has a plan. It’s a good plan, a workable plan. We start the mornings with training videos and lectures, and then fill the afternoons with hands-on sessions.

The list of broken-down vehicles is long, so there’s no shortage of training opportunities.

But Tomé, the maintenance man, has bad news. The grinding mill at the primary school is broken down, and the surrounding community depends on it for their supply of maize meal.

If we don’t go out that afternoon and bring the broken mill back to the shop to be welded, then a lot of people will be without their most basic food source. So my plans have to change.

Cancelling the afternoon session, we head out through the bush in a four-wheel drive pickup, bouncing over rutted tracks that wind through tangled trees, and fording creeks where the bridges are out.

Arriving at the school, I wait as Tomé and Jacobo dismantle the mill so it will fit into the truck.

Being the middle of the bush, this ordinary maintenance activity becomes a great source of entertainment.

Soon we have a crowd of school children gathered round, and as I watch them, I notice things — things like their tattered and dirty clothes, and that most of them are barefoot.

This is a mission-sponsored school, so upon my return I ask someone why the kids don’t have better clothing.

“We’ve tried,” I’m told. “People send us clothes all the time. For that school, we’ve probably provided clothes for every student maybe six or seven times. But the parents take the clothes and sell them.”

So in spite of the good plans of others, the children are left wearing rags. As for the parents, it makes sense – they grew up wearing rags, so why should their children be any different?

At the next training class, I take special note of my two youngest students. Castro and Joao are finishing Grade 8 and 9 respectively, and they’re here because they want to learn a trade; they want their future to be different that it was for their parents.

We taught these same boys last year, and their questions during class reveal that they have retained a lot of what they learned.

Today’s lessons are building on the foundation started last year, and as a result I know that their future will be different, and that difference in turn will affect the children that they one day will raise.

The reality is that day to day plans can change.

But if we accommodate the twists and turns of everyday life and persist, the long-term plan can prevail.

Some changes take a generation to make, and you start by teaching the children.

So I carry on with my plan, the very purpose of Mercy Tech Mission:  Changing lives, one skill at a time.

Rick Cogbill of Mercy Tech Mission is in Africa training students in automotive repair.


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