AKRON, Pa. — Forty years have passed since former Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) worker Nancy Heisey first stood in front of a classroom in Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“The students – some were older than I, some had lived through hiding in the bush during the rebellions, some were already strong in English because they wanted so much to learn it, some loved correcting my French and some heckled me from the back row,” wrote Heisey in a short recollection of her three years as a participant of MCC’s Teachers Abroad Program (TAP) from 1973-1976.
Heisey, now a professor in Eastern Mennonite University’s Bible and Religion Department, was one of more than 1,000 TAP participants who taught in 10 African countries, Jamaica and Bolivia from 1962 to the mid-1980s. Many have memories, scrapbooks, photos and letters to share from that time.
Heisey said she learned “to flex, to laugh and to be firm” as she matured alongside her Zairian students. “I read their assignments that retold stories they heard at home, watched their faces glowing as they sang and inhaled the energy they poured into acting out sketches.”
To preserve stories about TAP, MCC invites all TAP participants to contribute letters and reports that were sent home, photos and artifacts from their experiences to MCC’s newly established memory bank. All submissions will become property of MCC.
This centralized collection of information about TAP will be available to the public once it is collated.
Ron Mathies, a TAP alumnus who taught in Malawi from 1964–1967 and from 1970–1973, is one of the creative forces behind the memory bank project. Mathies was MCC executive director from 1996-2005.
“Our letters and reports home to family, friends and church communities now provide fascinating glimpses into the new contexts we were encountering and thus provide not only rich personal memories but also primary historical documentation,” said Mathies, who lives in Waterloo, Ont.
For guidelines on how to submit, contact your country’s MCC records director. In Canada, call or email Kaitlin Miller, 877-684-1181 (toll free); KaitlinMiller@mcccanada.ca. In the U.S., contact Frank Peachey 888-563-4676(toll free); FrankPeachey@mcc.org.
Emily Will is a freelance writer from Akron, Pa.