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Finding fulfillment lending a helping hand overseas

Siblings Caleb and Hannah Redekop certainly aren’t the self-entitled youth of this generation we’re always hearing about.

Caleb, 23, just returned at the end of July from a year serving in Lebanon with the Mennonite Central Committee’s SALT (serving and learning together) program. Hannah, 25, is halfway through a three-year term with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Colombia, and home for a month before she heads back.

The children of Floradale Mennonite Church pastor Fred Redekop, Caleb and Hannah attended the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, respectively. They aren’t new to travel, having been to places like Guatemala and Peru before this.

Caleb graduated from university last year and said he’d been interested in working with MCC since high school.

“Why I ended up in Lebanon was during my last year I developed a relationship between some of my classmates and some of the Syrian community who are also students at the University of Waterloo. And we ended up founding an organization called Students for Peace in Syria and that continues to run. That really compelled me to be interested in the Syrian conflict,” he explained.

He spent a month in Jordan doing language training before heading to Lebanon. MCC focuses on relief, development, and peace-building around the world. In Lebanon they’re responding to the need created by the 2011 conflict. He helped with material resources like blankets and hygiene kits. They also directed cash vouchers to organizations and supported two food programs.

Hannah’s experience has been quite the opposite. CPT doesn’t do any material aid or financial help. Instead they provide accompaniment and advocacy.

“Accompaniment, basically working alongside local peace initiative and international observation. So the fact we’re there watching might lessen the violence,” Hannah said. “And then advocacy, so coming back to our home communities and talking about it because in Colombia a lot of U.S. and Canadian policies affect life in Colombia.”

Caleb lived with Syrians whose families were still in Syria where they were under attack. Despite the car bombs we see on the news and the constant threat of attack, he said he felt very safe most of the time.

He says there are a lot of misconceptions about the Middle East, like it’s actually not one giant desert. Both Lebanon and Syria are lush with trees and flowers. It’s also not filled with religious fanatics.

“Most people there want to live in peace and are really scared and frustrated by the terrorist organizations that have been able to gain power by circumstance,” Caleb said.

Another common misconception is the Middle East is always at war and always will be. A lot of people don’t realize Lebanon is 40 per cent Christian and full of wealth not just from oil.

“Looking at the world leaders, I do not envy them in knowing what to do in this situation. I think we need more voices who are speaking to peace from secular people to religious leaders to Islamic leaders,” Caleb said. “We need people speaking against the violence.”

The biggest piece of knowledge he’s left with is the absurdity of war. He’s seen unimaginable destruction that hasn’t achieved anything. Caleb says while it sounds romantic and exciting to be doing humanitarian work in Lebanon, a lot of it was spent sitting at a computer.

“To do good in this world is not always exciting and it’s not always on a day-to-day basis fulfilling.”

Caleb is now working as a personal support worker at the House of Friendship in Kitchener.

Hannah’s work with CPT has been a long time coming. Her dad always spoke highly of the organization, she then wrote a paper about it in university and went on a delegation to see what their work was like hands-on. She said Colombia is similar to Lebanon in that there are a lot of false assumptions about it.

“A lot of it is having patience and being willing to explain what life is really like. There are kind of two  dichotomies here of what people think about when they hear Colombia,” Hannah said. “It’s often they have no idea it’s in conflict, in a civil war for the past 50 years, to ‘oh that’s full of drugs and violence and aren’t you in danger all the time?’ And I’m not.”

She’s even had friends ask how she had Internet access, as if Colombia is a jungle. She said looking at the big picture in Colombia can be difficult, and it’s easy to lose hope. But she remains hopeful for the country’s progress through the people she meets and the relationships she builds.

Hannah also wants to see the world shift away from their fascination with money, which often drives multinational companies to exploit smaller countries economically and environmentally.

“We’re travelling more but at the same time we’re fantasizing more about these faraway places and we forget that we are all human. And there’s a lot more similar to these places.”

She heads back to Colombia in a few weeks and says her travels have made South America feel like home.

“It’s always been something I wanted to do, so I’m kind of living the dream.”

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