When you’re leaving for an 18-month trip, it’s hard to predict what you’ll miss from home. Somewhere in the Congo, Elmira native Derek Wiens is in the middle of his second extended charity mission to help some of Africa’s poorest residents, and while he tries to keep sentimentality at bay, there are some things about home that cross his mind.“I miss individuals, and I miss the seasons,” said Wiens from the Congo. “In Central Africa, it’s always summertime, and the Sun comes up and goes down pretty much the same time every day. I miss being with friends and experiencing springtime right now.”
Wiens is a carpenter and electrician for Mercy Ships, a global charity that provides free medical care, community support, and relief aid to impoverished countries. Wiens first joined the Africa Mercy (the world’s largest charity hospital ship) as a carpenter in 2012, where he was one of 450 volunteers. Last year, he told the Observer, “I wanted to go out and do something, go to Africa and have a bit of an adventure and be able to make a little impact.”
Over his two trips, he’s done everything from build walkers for kids and man the rehab tent to fixing doorknobs. Looking back, he recalls, “To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into.
“I didn’t know anyone who had joined a Mercy Ship before, so I didn’t really have an idea of what I was getting into. I found it very welcoming.”
Currently, he’s focused on repairing and rebuilding equipment on the three-decade-old ship. A pleasant surprise has been how his life in Canada has informed his work in the Congo.
“I spent a couple of years at home working for local electrical companies, and then I came here,” said Wiens. “While there’s a lot to learn, it’s kind of cool how you can share what someone back in Elmira has taught me too.
“Learning something back home, and then coming here, finding a problem, and remembering how a person taught me to do this – that’s part of what we do.”