Rorisang Moliko backs a truck into a covered shed storing maize and beans and hooks it to a tractor to restart the battery. Later in the day he’ll check on vegetables in the fields to make sure there is enough straw covering them to conserve water.
Moliko is the demonstration farm manager at Growing Nations Trust, an MCC partner in Maphutseng, Lesotho, whose staff research different methods of agriculture and teach people in the community about ideas and techniques they can use in their fields.
Each day in his job, he uses the skills he honed during a year in Canada through MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP). “It helped me a lot to go to Canada,” he says.
In 2012–2013, he served as a volunteer with Willow View Farms in Abbotsford, British Columbia, a farm that grows apples, plums, pears, pumpkins and vegetables.
Before Moliko left for IVEP, he worked at Growing Nations as a gardener, primarily weeding and carrying out similar tasks, and didn’t have a guaranteed job upon his return to Lesotho.
His experiences in Canada, though, gave him the skills he needed to become the demonstration farm manager at Growing Nations.
Moliko refers to his work at Willow View as a mentorship. He learned to farm apples and winter vegetables and also how to work on equipment.
“Now I’m able to drive the tractor, I’m able to fix it when it has a problem, I’m able to fix pipes and electricity. I can’t say I’m a professional, but when there are some problems, I can fix them,” he says.
Like many people who have taken part in IVEP through the years, Moliko says his time in Canada shaped how he lives out his faith, including his prayer life. “I learned that talking to God was like talking to your friend,” he says.
Moliko isn’t the only IVEP participant to bring new skills in agriculture back to Lesotho and Growing Nations Trust.
Moliko Lekhera, general farm manager for Growing Nations, was in IVEP in 2011-2012. He says his year at Fry Road Nursery in Albany, Oregon, developed his interest in farming innovation, marketing and agricultural economics.
Inspired by that experience, he went on to get additional training and education in Lesotho and Zimbabwe, which he used to help Growing Nations begin to produce local seeds to sell to farmers.
Most seeds used in the area are grown in the neighbouring country of South Africa, often in areas with a different climate. “We are just one of a few people producing seeds in the country,” he says.
IVEP also played a role in growing his faith. “I was lonely sometimes and I had to rely more on God,” he says. “I believe God helped me finish IVEP because farming is what I want to do.”
Lekhera notes that most people separate their work in agriculture and their Christianity.
But at Growing Nations, he’s bringing both his farming knowledge and his faith together as the organization promotes an approach called Farming God’s Way, which encourages conservation agriculture by using biblical language and principles of caring for God’s earth.
Through the years, a number of Growing Nations staff members have been to Canada or the U.S. through IVEP, and several have been to Willow View Farms.
Cheryl and Murray Siemens of Willow View began having IVEP participants serve on their farm in Abbotsford after Elmer Stobbe, a fellow church member at South Abbotsford Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation, completed a short-term MCC assignment at Growing Nations.
Coming to Willow View Farms — with its variety of fruits and vegetables including some like pumpkins and squash that are grown in Lesotho — provides skills and experiences that can be more easily used back in Lesotho than, for instance, a large-scale chicken or grain farm. “What they would learn would be transferrable,” Murray Siemens says.
That’s worked well for Thabang Mpokathe.
Down a bumpy, hilly road in the town of Mohales Hoek, Mpokathe owns and operates Qalakheng Evergreen Farms with his wife, Tlalane. In 2011–2012, he was at Willow View through IVEP.
“I came to Willow View Farms and it really changed my perspective as to how to perceive farming as a business,” says Mpokathe, who had also learned about farming through Growing Nations.
“We worked hard there. I met people there who played a role in my life. They really changed my life.”
He also got an idea for a business.
MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky
Mpokathe saw Murray Siemens start his plants in a small greenhouse, and then plant the seedlings out in the fields when they were strong enough.
Lesotho can get quite cold and windy, so Mpokathe thought that vulnerable plants like tomatoes could benefit from being started in greenhouses — relatively uncommon structures in Lesotho.
He even started on the idea while at Willow View, working with Stobbe to develop a business plan and the steps needed to carry it out.
In 2013, the plans became reality. Mpokathe secured a loan to build a
greenhouse, and he dedicated part of it to growing tomatoes to harvest and another part to starting vegetable seedlings to sell.
“I saw huge growth in the seedling business,” he says. Soon, he dedicated his entire greenhouse to seedlings, starting pepper, tomato, potato, lettuce and spinach plants to sell. He says people have come all the way from Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, to buy his product and he has contracts with local supermarkets that sell his plants.
With this business growth, Mpokathe has been able to hire local labourers, helping benefit the economy. He’s also helped others build their own greenhouses.
“IVEP played a remarkable role in this project,” he says.
IVEP: A world of connetions
Since MCC’s International Volunteer Exchange Program began in 1950, some 3,802 young people from 79 different countries have spent a year serving in Canada or the U.S. (Today, IVEP has about 60 new participants a year, representing more than 25 countries.)
They live with host families, worship in local congregations and serve in volunteer assignments such as at a farm, a school, a retirement home or an MCC Thrift shop. In each setting, Anabaptists in Canada and the U.S. have a chance to learn from and share with IVEP participants.
And participants take what they have learned back home, enriching their home churches, communities and organizations such as Growing Nations. Many have become leaders in their congregations and denominations.