Niagara woman helps revitalize MEDA hub after visiting Tanzania project
This is the first of a series of stories about MEDA hubs (formerly chapters) across North America. The hubs, more than a dozen volunteer-led groups, organize events and activities to build awareness about MEDA’s work creating business solutions to poverty, to network and to hear people share stories about faith, work and entrepreneurship as a calling.
For Maria Klassen, seeing was believing when it came to understanding the value of MEDA’s work.
Klassen, a retired schoolteacher who lives in St. Catharines, first became aware of MEDA when her daughter, Kristin Neudorf, was working for MEDA as an intern in Tanzania in 2006.
Klassen visited her daughter in Tanzania and observed the work MEDA was doing with bed nets to prevent the spread of malaria.
“I was just blown away by how well everything was organized,” she recalls. “I saw the whole process from beginning to end… I went to the clinic, where the mothers were with the babies, and I went to the pharmacy where they sold the nets for next to nothing. Just very impressed.”
Three years later, Klassen attended a MEDA fundraising dinner in Waterloo, and was sitting at a table next to then-president Allan Sauder. They discussed how she might become involved. Sauder connected her with Howard Good from Pennsylvania, who at the time was MEDA’s vice-president, engagement.
Other St. Catharines residents, including charitable gift planner Darren Pries-Klassen (now president of Abundance Canada, no relation to Maria) and businessperson Dorothea Enns were also part of the effort to re-start regular meetings in the Niagara Peninsula. (MEDA staff from Waterloo had held some meetings in the early 1990s.)
The Niagara group’s first event was Sept 22, 2009 at a local farmer’s converted barn, with MEDA staffer Katie Turner (now senior director of MEDA’s work in Latin America, East Asia, and Pacific regions.)
The focus of Niagara hub meetings over the years has been local speakers telling their faith and work stories, Klassen says. Over the years, hub activity has grown from one to four annual events, three breakfasts plus a tour of area businesses that have included a greenhouse, a chicken farm, a winery, and the Niagara Christian Gleaners group, among others.
“I guess our focus is, a Christian sharing their story of faith and work.”
Meetings often include a MEDA moment, a short update on new projects or emphases, and sometimes have featured visiting overseas project staffer, such as Catherine Sobrevaga of MEDA’S Myanmar project.
Breakfast gatherings are held at Sweets Café, a St. Catharines restaurant that opens early specifically for a group that averages between 25 to 29 people.
Current hub leadership, in addition to Klassen, includes David Brubacher, a retired pastor and renovator; Chris Mullet Koop, an egg farmer and grape grower; Dorothea Enns, who operates a tire business along with her husband; and Randy Klaassen, a St. Catharines pastor.
Right around the time the pandemic struck, the Niagara hub was looking forward to a visit from Dorothy Nyambi, MEDA’s president and CEO. That visit had to be postponed, and the hub has been largely dormant since then.
“What’s going to happen now, I really have no idea,” Klassen said. “Who knows when we are going to get together?”