This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review.
COVID-19 physical distancing ended up helping a mother and daughter share about their Mennonite Economic Development Associates trip to Ukraine with more people than they would have reached otherwise.
The presentation about Ana – baptist heritage and current economic development in Ukraine is one of several web inars MEDA has held in recent months, allowing supporters to hear updates and pose questions about business solutions to pov erty in Ghana, Kenya, Nicaragua and Jordan.
“Explore Ukraine” had more than 100 registrants from 15 states and was hosted by Marnette and Vanessa Hofer. Marnette is director and archivist for Heritage Hall Museum and Archives in Freeman, S.D., while Vanessa is an associate development officer at MEDA, based in Lancaster, Pa.
Last summer, the Hofers traveled to Ukraine on a MEDA experience that connected MEDA members to the people and projects they support. The Hofers added a week in Germany to further engage Anabaptist history. “We thought the pictures, videos and stories we collected in Europe would resonate with community members in Freeman,” Marnette Hofer said. “We didn’t realize how many people would join from across the country.”
The program began with the Hofers’ time in Germany, outlining aspects of Anabaptist history that led to their ancestors’ migration. Low German Mennonites, Swiss Amish and Hutterites moved to Ukraine and spent about a century there before immigrating to North America in the late 1800s. The area around Freeman is the only place where these three groups settled alongside each other.
The second portion of the evening delved into MEDA’s work in Ukraine, where the organization is wrapping up a seven-year project. The Ukrainian Horticulture Business and Development Project, supported by Global Affairs Canada and donations from supporters, has improved livelihoods of more than 44,000 farmers and small business owners in Ukraine.
“As we put together our content, themes started to emerge,” Vanessa Hofer said. “Be it our ancestors who kept seeking a place to live and worship in peace — or the driven farmers and entrepreneurs whom MEDA partners with today — resilience and innovation is central to the storyline.”
Besides webinars, MEDA is offering a new newsletter, Rising Together, compiling stories of resilience, honesty and hope. “We can all use the reminder of how powerful resilience and innovation are,” Hofer said.