Every Tuesday, the bell at the front desk of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Alberta headquarters in Calgary dings incessantly, whether a receptionist is sitting there or not. “Hi, Simon!” someone says, and Simon wanders off to get a coffee and a snack, and then he ambles down the hall to the material resources warehouse.
Simon Eng, 33, has Down syndrome. Through a partnership with Columbia College, a Calgary vocational institute, and together with Edwin Juarez, his community rehabilitation worker, Eng packs school kits—35,000 of them in the last 12 years.
Thirty-five thousand school kits weigh as much as 7.5 elephants, they have 19.6 million pages of paper, and the erasers in them weigh as much as an adult polar bear.
Eng started off as a thrift shop volunteer 14 years ago, but after one session in the warehouse he declared that material resources was the place to be.
He has limited communication skills but says he wants to help kids go to school. “I may not have much, but I have my hands,” is something he has said many times over the years.
Once in the warehouse, it’s time to get down to work. “Uno, dos, tres, quatro” is heard from the table where Simon works, counting out the notebooks, pencils, pens and other items that go into a school kit. Each kit needs one blue and one black pen—not two of the same colour—and he lets Juarez know when he needs more of any item.
Eng is diligent and focussed, and the Alberta material resources warehouse wouldn’t be the same without him. Of the nearly 2,400 school kits packed in Alberta last year, Simon packed about 1,600 of them!
As his morning continues, the sounds of mariachi music fill the air. Boxes are made and filled, and the number of kits packed is carefully written down and totalled.
Then goodbyes are said, and it’s on to the next thing on Eng’s daily schedule. He loves to look at maps and can figure out directions to get almost anywhere!
Any story about Eng isn’t complete without mentioning Juarez, who has been with Eng for almost 12 years. Juarez has infinite patience and gentleness and has been a catalyst for Eng’s growth and maturity.
Eng likes to feel important and he loves being at MCC Alberta. He’s very much a part of the MCC Alberta family.
For more on MCC school kits see here.