Minnesota grower goes to Congo to teach basic farming techniques

By Jonathan Eisenthal

Dwight Mork, who farms near Madison, Minnesota, has been to the small, remote community of Bunia, in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa two times now. The town has given rise to a school aimed at educating orphans, which includes a hospital and a farm in its complex.

Mork said he has felt deeply privileged to go to this place ravaged by a ten year civil war and help the people rebuild their lives.

His friend (and distant relation) Glenn Mork heard the call for this mission after he retired from his career in law enforcement and now goes twice a year to the African Hope Center for Children in Bunia. He told Dwight that their farm operation needed help.

The first time Mork went, the Massey Ferguson tractor that was to be shipped from England had not arrived as scheduled, and since his purpose for the trip was to teach effective techniques for plowing and planting he told them he would return. He could tell they didn’t quite believe him.

When he came back to Bunia this February, he was greeted with open arms and warm smiles, and he was able to teach four men, two of whom had never driven any motorized vehicle, how to operate the tractor that will help them plant the local bean (like a Navy bean) and white corn, as well as helping with other tasks on the farm where they raise sweet potatoes and bananas as their other staples. They are also thinking of trying wheat.

“It’s all about the people,” said Mork. “There’s no nightlife there, there’s nothing to see that a tourist would come to check out. But meeting the people, eating the food, hanging out with them and playing with the kids–those are the things that make this a great experience.”

Mork and others who go on the mission pay their own way, so that no funds are diverted from the mission of educating, feeding and caring for about a thousand orphaned children who attend the school free of charge.

The mission is shipping over a container this August that will contain a two or four row cultivator and a four-row planter and there will be a group going over to put the equipment back together. Mork noted that anyone who is interested is welcome to participate.

One young man that learned the tractor basics from Mork had fled his village with his little sister and lived in the wild for more than a year.

“When they heard gunfire in the east, they would run west, and when they heard it in the west, they ran east, and for more than a year they lived by scrounging, and stealing little bits of food,” said Mork.

Despite such harrowing experiences, these children are finding a new, normal way of life. They are housed with widows–another thing in plentiful supply in a land where conservative estimates say four to five million people perished. So Glenn and Dwight and the others on this trip brought 40 frisbees, soccer balls and jump ropes and found a lot of kids ready to have fun.

Getting to Bunia is no simple task–eight hours to Amsterdam, another eight hours to Entebbe, Uganda, and then a 70 minute flight in a nine-seater plane. Entebbe, which is located right on Lake Victoria and the Upper Nile River, did allow Mork to take a day and go on a whitewater rafting excursion.

The climate in Bunia is a pleasant, temperate one, with two wet seasons and two dry seasons, which allows local farmers to raise two crops a year. The community is at 3,000 feet elevation, so the air is dry and never got above 88 when Mork was there, though this is the hottest time of year. The soil there is a lot like you would find in western Minnesota, which makes it easier for farmers from here to share expertise.

“It was rewarding experience,” said Mork, who is willing to come and speak about his trip for church and community groups. “When my wife, Dawn, and I retire we can foresee going overseas to help–maybe through Fellowship of Christian Farmers–they build churches and homes. I enjoy different cultures. I like trying new foods, seeing how people live. The biggest part is the people. In Uganda I went into the kitchen and helped make breakfast–it was so much fun.

Readers can find out more about Bunia’s Hope Center for Children at
http://africanhopecenters.org/about_us.htm

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