Mercy Tech Mission, a non-profit group founded by former shop owner and Canadian Technician humour columnist Rick Cogbill, has been granted charity status by Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
“This is something we’ve been working toward for a while now and we’re very excited about it,” says Cogbill, who writes the Car Side column that appears in every issue of the magazine. “With our charity status, we can now issue tax-deductible receipts to donors who want to be a part of what we are doing in developing countries around the world.”
Mercy Tech is committed to “Changing lives, one skill at a time.” The group’s strategy is to teach marketable skills and trades to those living in poverty.
Cogbill leads small teams of experienced trades-people to places like rural Africa where a good education is out of reach for the average person.
Inspired by Nelson Mandela’s axiom that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” Cogbill started the group three years ago.
“I began by teaching my own trade, automotive mechanics,” he says. “One of my first students is now about to receive his certification – something extremely rare in Mozambique. The youth of Africa just don’t have the opportunities we enjoy here in Canada, especially if they’re from the rural areas.”
Although Mercy Tech has focused mainly on the automotive trade, Cogbill’s teams have included a number of different skills, including carpentry, welding, and electrical.
“We helped start a wood-turning project in Central Mozambique that now has young men creating beautiful wooden bowls. They’re selling them as fast as they can make them, and that’s providing an income for their families.”
One of Cogbill’s dreams is that his own trade, the automotive repair industry, will take a more active role in the work of MTM. “It’s our way of giving back,” he says. “Somebody invested in our lives to help us learn our trade, and in this way we can pass on that investment to others who otherwise have little hope for the future.”
As someone who’s been in the automotive trade for over 35 years, Cogbill would like to see other technicians and shop owners catch the vision.
“Lawyers do pro bono work, and many doctors go on medical trips to developing countries. Our industry could really benefit from being involved in something that’s about more than just making money. I think customers would be thrilled to know that their local shop is making a difference in a young person’s life half-way around the world.” He already has a few shop owners and technicians who regularly contribute to MTM’s work, but there’s room for more.
Cogbill’s biggest project has been the construction of a 2,500 sq. ft. (232 sq. m.) maintenance shop at the ASAM mission base near Chimoio, Mozambique. “We started this shop three years ago because I was literally teaching mechanics in the dirt. The mission had a lot of vehicles and machinery that need regular maintenance, and we needed a place to teach. So Mercy Tech volunteered to head up this project. It’s almost finished and I can’t wait to start using it.”
The next technical training trip is planned for the spring of 2014, and Cogbill says there are many ways to become involved. “We’re always looking for volunteers, but we know it’s hard for most people to commit to a month-long trip into the African bush.” For those who can’t go, he recommends a tax-deductible cash donation. “As technicians, apprentices, and shop owners, we spend a lot of money on tools and upgrading. Sure, we need that to do our trade, but what if once in a while we put a few dollars towards training someone less fortunate than ourselves in a life-changing skill? Until you see it for yourself, you just can’t imagine what a difference it makes.” Cash gifts also enable Mercy Tech to provide starter tool kits for their students, so that they can begin using their new skills right away.