A young woman plays guitar while children sing and play along
Photo/Loretta Sawatsky Thorleifson

Students from the Pudulogong School for the Blind sing and play instruments with Loretta Sawatsky Thorleifson, a Serving and Learning Together (SALT) participant based in Mochudi, Botswana in 1982/1983.

The 2021/2022 Serving and Learning Together (SALT) term marks the young adult program’s 40th anniversary. Since its inception, the SALT program has offered a year-long cross-cultural service experience to Christian young adults from Canada and the U.S. 

Loretta Sawatsky Thorleifson was among the first cohort of Manitobans to participate in the program, embarking on her SALT journey in the summer of 1982.

Hometown: Oak Lake, Man.

Placement location: Mochudi, Botswana. At that time, a sprawling village of about 10,000 people on the edge of the Kalahari Desert.

Assignment: My SALT placement related well to my studies and future profession as a music teacher. I worked at a school where about 20 blind children from around the country came to be integrated into the local elementary school. Their teacher and I would translate their assignments from Setswana or English into Braille for the students, and after they completed them, we would translate them back for the classroom teachers to evaluate. In the afternoons, when regular school was done for the day, we made musicsinging, playing guitars and percussion instruments. With the support of another teacher, this choir became quite well-known, singing at a number of local events, and even traveling to the national radio station to record a collection. I will never forget the excitement of the children hearing themselves on the Radio Botswana!

The tidy rondavel where Loretta Sawatsky Thorleifson stayed during language school "village live-in." Photo/Loretta Sawatsky Thorleifson

Impacts on life and faith: My SALT experience resulted in a complete pivot of my worldview. My personal encounters with the people of Botswana broke my stereotypes of "developed" versus "developing" countries, and revealed to me how we are all connected. Being far away from home for a year at that age required an independence, resourcefulness, and sense of adventure which continued to serve me in the years following. As my first international travel experience, SALT also launched a life-long interest in visiting other countries and learning from other cultures. 

My MCC country leaders took me through a valuable course of reading and study which accompanied and informed my time therethis helped my fledgling faith to develop in context, and with respect for other cultures. SALT reinforced the values of working alongside other people as equals, living out faith through actions. I had a healthy struggle with my position of privilege, listening and learning from others who had fewer choices.

Advice to young people considering SALT: SALT immerses you into unknown settings and launches you on a journey of learning, acceptance, adaptation, and courage. This is an exciting and life-changing experience for those who are willing to embrace change and independence, and who are able to deal with the possibility of deep challenges.

Even though I had lived away from home for several years before joining SALT, it was still a challenge to be far from home for a year, pre-social media! Be prepared for possible low times a few months in, and if they happen, embrace your experience and lean on your local connections. Become part of the community as much as possible, and know that you are there to learn and receive as much as to teach and give!

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