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Culinary grad a devoted overseas volunteer

Carie McAllister volunteered in an orphanage in Thailand on one of her many mission trips.

In the last few years, Carie McAllister has done more travelling than many people do in a lifetime – but never as a tourist. Instead of lounging on the beach with a cool drink, the member of SunWest Christian Fellowship and graduate of Calgary’s SAIT Polytechnic leads missions in poor communities. The biggest project, an annual trip to Rosario, Mexico, with a large contingent of teenage volunteers, builds homes for families.

“The living conditions aren’t very good at all,” explains McAllister, who has been involved in the project since 2003. She explains that most people live in lean-tos made of junk metal or cardboard. These dwellings aren’t lockable, so people can’t keep anything valuable, and a dirt floor makes the homes hard to keep clean. “The biggest thing we do for them is pour them a cement floor, so they can keep it somewhat clean,” says McAllister.

The new homes are a simple construction – in fact, no power tools are used, as teams assemble houses by hand. “It’s basically four walls and a roof. They tar the roof, stucco the walls, and put in windows.”

It’s not fancy by North American standards, but it creates a permanent structure that can better resist the elements and better protect families’ possessions. “A house is basically four walls and a cement floor, but for them what it means is a place for their family to be.”

It’s not a typical career for a SAIT culinary arts graduate, but McAllister can’t imagine doing anything else. Though she worked as a professional cook for a few years after graduating in 1999, the long-time volunteer eventually decided to focus on community building full-time. Since her family is financially stable, McAllister decided to take the opportunity to help others who haven’t been so lucky.

“I just feel that there are so many people who are well off, and so many who have nothing,” she says. McAllister’s role in the Mexico mission is tremendous – not only is she in charge of keeping nearly 100 volunteers fed (putting her culinary skills to good use) she’s the chief organizer, a role she’s held since 2005.

SunWest Christian Fellowship in Calgary has a long history of international volunteerism. For nearly 12 years, the MB congregation has sent teams to Mexico to participate in the housing project through Amor Ministries. SunWest has also sent missions to a number of other places, including El Salvador, Thailand, and Africa. Matt Dyck, pastor of senior high ministries, says McAllister is to thank for the program’s continuation.

McAllister is also heavily involved with a wide variety of other church projects as well – like a recent trip to Thailand to deliver school supplies to fishing villages.

It is her volunteering activities at home where she puts her cooking abilities to best use. Through a regular cooking group she organizes, McAllister designs cost-effective, freezer-friendly, healthy meals for families on the go. For everyone in the group, cooking en masse keeps costs down, as products are bought in bulk, but the real purpose is to promote healthy eating, she says. “It’s great to know you’ve got a healthy meal on the table at the end of the day, rather than scrambling.”

There are times when McAllister admits she feels frustrated that she can’t do more for communities and that more people don’t volunteer. “I just think that if everyone did a little something, it would make a big difference.”

But, she’s also impressed by her community’s response to her efforts. “I also find that in my travels, I have lots and lots of people around me who are just waiting for my next project and gung-ho on being a part of it. And it was just that they didn’t know how to be a part of it.”

Caitlin Crawshaw
This article first appeared in the SAIT Alumni Link, Fall 2008.

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