LITTLE CURRENT – Gail and Mike Messick have dedicated years of their lives to volunteerism, perhaps most importantly in Swaziland (now Eswatini), a little country in Sub-Saharan Africa with the highest population of HIV/Aids-affected people in the world. Tomorrow evening, Thursday, August 29, the Messicks will be sharing details about their good works at a public presentation at the Little Current United Church.
For four years, beginning in 2010, the Messicks worked at an orphanage in Swaziland after being paired there through their work with the United States’ Peace Corps—a government-funded volunteer organization “designed to get Americans out of their comfort zone. It’s a cultural exchange,” the coupled explained.
“You live as the people live and are given a very modest stipend,” Ms. Messick said.
Volunteers only go to countries that the United States government has a pre-organized agreement with via the Peace Corps. Currently, there are over 7,000 volunteers serving in more than 70 countries.
“We left the States, sold our house, and moved to Africa,” Mr. Messick told The Expositor.
What was supposed to be a two-year assignment with the Peace Corps turned into four years at the Pasture Valley Children’s Home—an orphanage of 20 children at the time, which has since over-doubled in size to now house 50 children.
The Messicks explained that one-third of Swaziland is HIV positive, about half that population is between the ages of 29 and 49 and seven percent of the entire population of one million are orphans.
“If you think about it, the population sign of Little Current says 1,500—that would mean 105 of those 1,500 would be orphans,” Ms. Messick said by way of example.
In Swaziland, the government has no official programs to take care of the orphans. “The social welfare program is poorly funded,” she added.
The Messicks explained that the normal procedure at the Pasture Valley Children’s Home is that the orphanage will receive a phone call and someone like the Messicks will be dispatched to investigate the case.
Quite often, the child will know their name and their age, but not much else. Once the child is brought back to the home, they are assigned a birthday.
Peace Corps’ missions are typically two years, but can be extended to four or five years, which is what the Messicks did. As the orphanage continued to grow, they knew they couldn’t just leave the Pasture Valley Children’s Home. The couple that runs the home, Peter and Michelle McCubbin, needed help, and so they continue to go back each year for as long as their travel VISAs will allow.
The Messicks, from Columbus, Ohio, have vacationed in White’s Point on Manitoulin since 1970 when they visited Mr. Messick’s family cottage on their honeymoon. Mr. Messick has been coming to Manitoulin, and White’s Point, since 1957. In the summers, they attend the Little Current United Church.
The Thursday night event will be a 45-minute long PowerPoint presentation and will also include refreshments and some jewellery and crafts for sale. The handicrafts are made by the women of Swaziland and help them to become financially independent.
“What they do with that money, they send their girls to school; they buy meat for the pot,” Ms. Messick said. “It helps them stand a little taller and it shows their daughters what they are capable of too.”