Helping rebuild livelihoods
As a child, Greg Walker-Wilson '89 lived with his missionary parents in Armenia, Colombia. Every day, at 1 and 7 p.m., a young brother and sister would knock on their door. Walker-Wilson's family would recognize the knock, welcome them in and then place the remains of their meals into a bucket for the siblings to take back to their family. That period of two years— living in and experiencing poverty first-hand—made a big impact on Walker-Wilson.
"That image got me thinking," says Walker-Wilson. "Why was I on one side of the door and they on the other side? What did they do? Well, they didn't do anything. I had the good fortune to be born into a particular circumstance, and they didn't. At the time, I couldn't figure out why they weren't so grateful or why they weren't so kind. Experiencing that made me realize in my professional life that I wanted to figure out how I could give back and serve others because that's what my faith and values as a Mennonite were all about."
In July, Walker-Wilson and his wife, Susanne, and boys Caleb, 11, and Ascher, 8, will begin a three-year volunteer assignment with MCC, journeying to Sincelejo, Colombia, to work with the local nonprofit SembrandoPaz, which means "planting peace." The organization is a peace and development initiative of Protestant churches on the North Coast of Colombia facilitated by Mennonite peace leader Ricardo Esquivia. SembrandoPaz helps the churches form a network of income-generating projects to rebuild communities torn by violence and displacement.
"Colombia has a great conflict going on and, as a result, a lot of people from rural areas are being displaced to the cities," says Walker-Wilson. "The country now has almost 4 million displaced persons—about 10 percent of its population. That is more displaced persons than any country in the world, recently surpassing Sudan."
Walker-Wilson will offer support, training, capacity building and small business advice to grassroots groups who want to create and sustain self-run income generation and agricultural projects. "I'll help persons who have been moved against their will figure out things like 'How do I create a living? How do I start a business? How do I make money so that I can support my family in the circumstances we find ourselves in?,'" says Walker-Wilson, who describes his future work as closely aligning with the work he has done for the past 15 years, most recently with Mountain BizWorks in Asheville, N.C. (formerly Mountain Microenterprise Fund). As a social worker, his wife will accompany local churches as they work with victims of violence in the processes of trauma healing and strengthening resilience.
"Wanting to do a term of service is something my wife and I discovered we shared when we first met," says Walker-Wilson. "We both wanted to work with MCC at some point in our lives. We've been holding onto this for 15 years. For us, this service is about living out our faith and our values," says Walker-Wilson. "It's about exposing our kids to a third-world country and helping them to become bilingual. It's about expanding their minds and seeing how it may influence their life choices in the future."
Keep tabs on the Walker-Wilsons by following http://walker-wilson.blogspot.com/.