Glenn Colling, 39, recently found himself experiencing a somewhat premature mid-life crisis in that he had an insatiable urge to do something completely different. The owner of Eastside Auto Service in Oakville, Ont. could’ve chosen to buy the de rigueur Porsche and go on a cross-country self-discovery road trip. Instead, he signed up with Christian charity Careforce International as a volunteer. Eventually, the technician found himself on a plane to Burkina Faso, West Africa to provide manpower to construct a dormitory for orphaned children.
Although Colling wanted to construct buildings rather than mend motors, he made the mistake of offering to repair an alternator for a diesel generator. After he successfully fixed the generator – and once it was determined by everyone in the village that Colling was indeed handy with a tool kit – “things came out of the woodwork that needed fixing,” he says.
Indeed, Colling soon found himself repairing machines ranging from a bulldozer to a 60-year-old tractor.
But make no mistake: fixing mechanical equipment in such a remote African village was a profound challenge. For starters, there was a dearth of facilities in which to conduct repairs. And, as Colling notes, “When you’re in Burkina Faso, you can’t exactly run down to the local NAPA store for parts.”
Still, necessity is the mother of invention, and Colling found himself embracing MacGyver-like ingenuity when it came to formulating makeshift solutions. For example, since there wasn’t any sandpaper in the village, Colling covered the wood plank surface of an old hay wagon with sand in order to clean the surface of a carburetor.
But Colling wanted to continue making a difference for the village upon returning to Canada. And after meeting some charity workers from Colorado, Colling experienced an epiphany. The Coloradans were adapting mountain bikes that could survive the rigors of West African terrain, with the hope of providing villagers with reliable, low-cost transportation. All of which got Colling thinking: why not devise a facility that could also take care of the village’s mechanical repair needs?
His solution: a 40-foot container. The container would not only serve as a shipping conveyance for tools and equipment, but the container itself would remain in the village, functioning as a makeshift garage. Auto Repair Shop in a Box was born.
Colling says the project will encompass three key goals: It will serve as a venue to teach children valuable work skills; the garage will be used to maintain the village’s equipment; and it will provide a future means of income by servicing vehicles from outside the village.
The 40-foot container that is to become the first Auto Repair Shop in a Box was recently purchased for $3,400 and is currently sitting behind Colling’s Oakville repair shop. He’s now actively seeking donations of good-working new or used equipment to outfit the container.
To date, he has received an engine lift, a full chest of tools, an air gun, several vices, air conditioning equipment, a brake lathe and a waste oil interceptor.
But Colling covets the following equipment: tire machine and balancer, welder, drill press, an acetylene torch set and a 10-ton press. And, he notes, Careforce International can issue gift-in-kind tax receipts for the fair market value (determined by Careforce) of any equipment donated. (Proof of value should be provided if possible.)
Colling is also trying to raise $25,000 to cover the shipping costs and taxes that will be incurred when the container is sent to Africa. He’s hopeful that he can ship the container by year’s end.
Colling invites technicians who have an equipment contribution or cash donation to call him at 905-844-9641 or to contact Careforce International at 905-639-8525. Colling can also be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, Colling says he almost feels obligated to help the village succeed, noting that his African adventure has given him a whole new perspective on materialism.
“Not a week goes by when I don’t think of one of the smiling kids from the village,” he says. “They have so little – the average annual income there is about $200 – and yet they’re so thankful for what they do have.”