Threads - May 2023 - SALT of the Earth

A woman teaching a class of students at desks

Manitoba — May 2023

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Audio file

Playing time: 14:38

On this episode of Threads, you'll hear from Manitoban former and future SALT program participants about their experiences.

Threads, formerly known as Word and Deed, was established in April 2007. It is a 15-minute radio program by KR Words featuring the work of MCC in Manitoba and around the world. Threads broadcasts on CFAM AM 950, CHSM AM 1250 and CHRB AM 1220 at 8:45 am on the first Sunday of the month.

Audio Transcription:

Kyle Rudge (00:02):

It begins with a single thread woven through other thread and then another and another until we have a single piece of fabric. That fabric is stretched, cut and stitched together with another just like it. This process is repeated over and over and over until we have a beautiful tapestry that all began with a single thread. Welcome to an MCC Threads, where we look closely at how our stories in Manitoba weave together with the stories of MCC and its partners around the world.

Natasha Neustaedter Barg  (00:52):

I often picture your life as a mosaic moment, as this big picture and you're filled with lots of little ones. And I was seeing the big picture of what my friends had done, but I knew none of the small moments, and my friends were seeing this big picture of Natasha in Vietnam, but knew none of the people that I'd played cards with. They didn't know my route to my work. They didn't know my favourite foods. They didn't know the people who recognized me on the streets and said hello. They didn't know the times when I was homesick and crying. They didn't know the times when I was like encouraged and yelled from, you know, throughout the school, cause they saw me coming to teach their class, like they didn't know those little moments.

Kyle Rudge (01:30):

SALT stands for Serving And Learning Together. It's a yearlong cross-cultural program with MCC for young adults aged 18 to 30. It's a learning experience where SALTers, as they're called, serve overseas with MCC and its partners and have an opportunity for a truly life-changing experience. This year, four young-ish Manitobans are going. And as we heard from Natasha, that's a third of all SALTers this year. In addition to Natasha, we'll be speaking to two Manitobans, one who has just finished their SALT experience recently and one who is one of those four and is about to embark on their SALT journey. But first, to set it up, we speak to Natasha.

Natasha Neustaedter Barg  (02:14):

Hi, my name is Natasha Neustaedter Barg and I am the stewardship and volunteer engagement associate for MCC Manitoba and I'm based out of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Kyle Rudge (02:24):

Her role is to engage with young adults, which includes the SALT program and thanking donors who support those who go on SALT. As a Mennonite herself, Natasha's experience with MCC has been deep for many years. It even included a stint with SALT herself and it was in Vietnam.

Natasha Neustaedter Barg  (02:42):

I had absolutely no concept about Vietnam. Its food, its culture, its language. I knew nothing. My brother had been there travelling and so he wanted to tell me about it, but I just like was in freeze mode and so I didn't want to hear about it. I didn't really wanna learn about it. I was like, I can't. I signed up to do SALT with the intent of going to Ukraine. I come from a Mennonite family and I was really interested to live into the places where my family had been and kind of touched my Mennonite history in a more known way. And so I chose Ukraine, had an interview with them, but when you apply for SALT, you get to choose three places. So I had chosen, I think Mexico, Vietnam and Ukraine. And so you send your application to them, they look through it. If they think yes, then like you send [it] back. And then I had 10 days to decide where I wanted to go <laugh>. And it ended up being that the role in Vietnam just seemed to suit my interests and what I wanted to do down the road better than the role in Ukraine.

Kyle Rudge (03:47):

The role she took on there was for a children's English teacher.

Natasha Neustaedter Barg  (03:50):

I remember in the afternoons I had to teach I created my own lesson plans. And so there was a time when I was teaching them about different slang in English, cause I was trying to teach them things that were relevant. And so there's this English slang that I use and maybe other people use too, of like, when you fall and you like trip or something, you often say like, I ate it. And so there was a time where I was hanging out with some of the kids and one of my kids was playing basketball and then fell like pretty badly. And they were okay, but <laugh> then my other students who were there and witnessing it, they were like, man that guy ate it. And I felt so bad about this kid that he had kind of hurt himself, but also so proud that the other kids like knew what the word was. And so that was like a really fun way of knowing. Other fun teaching experiences were there's this game called Exploding Kittens.

Kyle Rudge (04:49):

Just to keep us all at the same page, Exploding Kittens is a party card game. It's probably best described as a supercharged comedic version of hot potato.

Natasha Neustaedter Barg  (05:00):

And I found it such a gift to be able to learn from them when they were also learning from me. And so sometimes during the breaks between classes, we would play Exploding Kittens and they would like explain some of these words or like the colours of different cards in Vietnamese. And it was a really transactional kind of connecting point where we got to have the fun and laughter and that was just really encouraging to have those little moments so that in class, so that in the actual class setting, when they had various questions, I had this bigger context of who they were and they had a bigger context for me as well.

Emma Martens (05:35):

Hi, my name is Emma Martens. I did SALT in Kigali, Rwanda, from 2020 to 2022. And I'm currently a student at University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

Kyle Rudge (05:47):

Emma served with SALT at the start of the pandemic and her experience was so life-changing that she opted to stay for a second year. SALT completely changed the direction of Emma's life.

Emma Martens (05:58):

I was studying peace and conflict transformation studies at CMU in Winnipeg. And I was thinking about doing my practicum. I had done half of my degree and I was kind of looking for a break from academia. And yeah, I just kind of decided that maybe I should go on, maybe I should do a practicum now I can do an international practicum, especially because a lot of my courses were also international development courses. And so it would be nice for me to kind of see some of that in play, explore the world a little bit because I had travelled before, but never really for long, like for more than three months, you know? And I knew about the SALT program. People in my church have done it, friends of mine have done it. Relatives of mine have done it. So I looked around at all the locations and I decided on Rwanda because like that's one of the best places in the world to go if you want to learn about peace, right? Like 30 years ago, that country was really, really suffering. And now they're extremely peaceful and extremely developed.

Kyle Rudge (07:01):

Most of us would remember the Rwandan genocide of the Tutsi people in the 90s. It's a very different country now, just 30 years later.

Emma Martens (07:10):

To go from that, to extremely politically stable and very secure country? It's really a mystery as to how you can do that so quickly when all of your inhabitants are survivors too, right? So that is why I went to SALT and why I chose that country.

Kyle Rudge (07:28):

Emma worked in children's peace libraries within Rwanda, primarily based in Kigali, the capital.

Emma Martens (07:34):

And the purpose behind these libraries, my boss, who is a really amazing man, David Petura, he said that he was a headmaster at a school while the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis occurred. And so he was really in the center and he helped with a lot of the mediations and the local peacebuilding tribunals, the legal ones afterwards as well. So he has a lot of experience in peacebuilding and he said that the libraries were really necessary because a lot of the kids growing up like, they were read to sometimes, but they were told a lot of stories, which is wonderful, right? Like oral history and oral tradition is great, but he was saying that it's good to have both. And so a lot of families maybe don't have a big bookshelf like a lot of us do here. And so if they can't get a book at home, then we're gonna build a library for them and all the books in there are going to be with themes of peace or conflict resolution or regulating your emotions or something like that. And he really wanted the kids of today to learn how to search for their own information in books. So then maybe in the future, they will not be fooled by propaganda as they were in 1994. And not to just blindly follow, if somebody tells you this, maybe question them on it before anything happens because he said that like ignorance played a really, really big part in the genocide against the Tutsis. And that education is the key to make sure that never happens again.

Kyle Rudge (09:21):

The SALT program is for a single year, but Emma stayed for a second year.

Emma Martens (09:26):

All of the relationships that I've been working on developing were just starting to get really deep at the point I was supposed to leave, you know, because it takes a long time to meet people and make friends and especially when you're working across cultures I think, so yeah and I just really loved the work that I was doing. And also like there was a pandemic, right? I spent the whole pandemic in that country basically. I left Canada in October 2020 and I arrived back in August 2022. And I heard about everything that was happening in Canada and it really sounded awful <laugh>. So yeah, for all those reasons I decided to stay. And the only reason why I came back is because I wanted to go back to school, but if I had it my way, I would still be there doing the same thing, but I wasn't really making money, so <laugh>.

Kyle Rudge (10:16):

Emma would love to go back one day to see old friends and contribute in a way that she sees and feels the tangible difference she is making while she is there. Which brings us to Amelia.

Amelia Warkentin (10:27):

My name is Amelia Warkentin and I will be going on SALT to Kenya beginning in August this year.

Kyle Rudge (10:34):

Amelia is one of the four Manitobans going on SALT this year. So what brought her to consider joining SALT? Her story isn't too far off from Emma's, but is still distinctly her own.

Amelia Warkentin (10:45):

SALT's been in the back of my mind for a number of years. I took a gap year right after high school and I did not actually have the best experience. I was really hoping for an experience that would just introduce me to a different culture and would be a better like, job experience, kind of work experience. And the program itself was a secular program that was very based on partying and it was not the cultural experience that I was really expecting, I guess. And ever since that, I have been curious about having another cultural experience that is a little bit more true to who I am as a person and my belief values. And I have worked with MCC before in the past in various capacities. I've heard really, really great things about SALT and it just felt like the right time and place.

Kyle Rudge (11:37):

Amelia applied to the program and said yes to every single option available to her.

Amelia Warkentin (11:43):

Because I just wanted to do the program and I thought as long as if I keep my options really open, then they can't say no to me, right? So I'll just say yes to everything and then they have to say yes to me too.

Kyle Rudge (11:54):

The end result of all those yes' is Amelia will be headed off to Kenya later this fall.

Amelia Warkentin (12:00):

I was really intrigued by the placement itself because I will be working in a school as an elementary teaching assistant, and I'm currently working in a school as a grade four teacher. I am looking forward to the opportunity to be in a school where I will hopeful.

(Intercom Voice: From grade 6. If you're in the building, can you come to the front office escape.)

Amelia Warkentin (12:22):

Being in school yeah, I can't escape it. <Laugh>, I'm looking forward to being in a school where I hope I will have a chance to be a little bit more of a fly on the wall and observe other teachers and just like learn and grow as an educator because I felt this year was very overwhelming. I have felt that in the last year or so, I like just recently graduated from the education program, so I'm still a very new teacher. And I've felt I've been having a lot of trouble trying to find like work-life balance. And I know I'm not alone in that struggle, but I do have a dream of, if possible finding some semblance of balance in Kenya and just taking more time to explore what work-life balance could look like, might look like. And then also just gaining confidence in my abilities as an educator. I mean, I would love to be able to grow in my faith as well and just feel more comfortable speaking to others more openly about my beliefs and just recognizing all that I do have to be grateful for in the day-to-day life.

Kyle Rudge (13:29):

SALT is an incredible program with some incredible people who have done it, like Emma, people who facilitate it here in Manitoba, like Natasha, and some eager young adults excited to see what it brings them, like Amelia. If you know someone in your life that is interested in an opportunity like that, or maybe you are a person interested in it yourself, the opportunities vary greatly. And MCC really can find a place that is the right fit for you and where you are the right fit for them as well. You can find out more information at You can also see this year's SALTers and where they are at in their fundraising journeys. Last I checked, Amelia was about a third of the way to her goal, and you can even contribute financially or in prayer for them.

MCC Threads is produced by KR Words with story assistance from Jason Dueck. Thank you to Natasha, Emma, and Amelia for sharing your stories, your memories, your hopes, and your dreams regarding your experience with SALT with the rest of us. I'm Kyle Rudge, and this is MCC Threads.

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