Friday, November 22, 2013

Douglas College student ventures to Congo and Haiti to help those in need

Ian MacKay’s passion for international humanitarian work has taken him places many wouldn’t dare visit.

In recent years, the Douglas College student has travelled on his own multiple times to earthquake-ravaged Haiti and the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.

He admits he faces danger and uncertainty during the solo trips, but explains he goes because he wants to help out where the need is great.

Ian, who is studying towards a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, had his first major experience with humanitarian work in Haiti, an island country in the Caribbean.

He worked alongside healthcare professionals following the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake and later returned amid a cholera outbreak as a medical first responder.

It was while in Haiti that Ian also became interested in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He met a doctor from the African country who invited him to visit her homeland.

Ian took his first trip there in 2011. He spent a month meeting people and travelling through the eastern part of the country, a region plagued by rebel groups and armed conflict.

For Ian, the threat of violence was a part of daily life.

“I wanted to go to an area where I could make the biggest impact possible,” he says. “Yes there’s risk, yes there’s danger, but that’s the reality of working in conflict regions.”

“I work by myself there for a reason. I’m there by myself because I can’t be liable for anybody but myself.”

During the trip, Ian met Tom Amani Mataboro, a local educator who shared his hope of one day building a school in his eastern Congo village.

Inspired to help bring the dream into reality, Ian returned to Canada and launched the Peace Life Project Foundation.

The nonprofit group’s goal is to build a school to help educate and empower Congolese children affected by conflict.

“A large majority of the population in Congo is youth. Change comes from a grassroots level, by educating the youth. It is through education that we hope to see a decrease in conflict and violence,” says Ian, who also visited the country in early 2013.

With planning on the school project under way, it is only a matter of time before Ian returns again to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“I want to educate the kids who I know need it, and that’s mostly the victims of war,” he says. “In order to educate victims of war, you’ve got to go to a war zone.”

The Peace Life Project Foundation can be reached by email and found on Facebook.