Thirty-seven years ago, as he made his way across the dirt roads of Soweto, South Africa, Joe Eilerman wondered how he could help “the indigenous tribes trying to eke out an existence,” he recalls. And, though he wishes he had reached out to poor communities such as those in South Africa much earlier in his life, his work today should do him proud. In early 2011, the longtime Midmark technical publications department manager completed the necessary paper work and tax forms and by July, his charitable organization, the Mission of the Body and Blood, was formally recognized in the state of Ohio.
“My motivation for starting this mission is a direct result of my days working at Stamco, a steel mill manufacturer,” he says, referring to the early days of his career when he joined Jack Eiting (brother of former Midmark CEO Jim Eiting). “Jack sent me to the Republic of South Africa for seven months to work on the installation of some steel mill equipment at Iscor, a government-owned steel mill in the town of Vanderbijlpark (approximately 50 kilometers north of Johannesburg). I would often drive by the township of Soweto, which housed some of the poor. On weekends I would travel the dirt roads throughout the area and watch some of the indigenous tribes trying to eke out an existence. I knew at that point that I should do something to make a difference for these people.” It’s a shame it took so long to get started, he adds.
After an extended strike at Stamco in 1976, Eilerman moved on to a technical publications position with Crown Lift Trucks (New Bremen, Ohio), followed by a position at his brother-in-law’s company, Fabcor. “During my two years at Fabcor, I did some technical publications contract work for Rudy Quinter and Bob Wyen at Midmark,” says Eilerman. Soon afterward, in December 1990, he joined Midmark’s technical publications department full time. Two months shy of his 21st anniversary with the company, he was forced to retire early to focus on treatment for cancer. “I worked until Oct. 4, 2011, at which time I went on permanent disability,” he says. “I truly love the company and wish I could have retired [much later]. I should add that my father, brother and I collectively worked over 100 years for Midmark.”
A long time coming
In a way, starting a mission is Eilerman’s means of paying it forward. “In early 2009, I was being treated at the Mayo Clinic and had to fly to Rochester, Minn., every couple of weeks,” he recalls. “My teammates at Midmark took up a collection to help defray the travel and hotel expenses for my wife, Peg, and me. It made a huge difference. Once I completed my treatment and returned to work, I realized I couldn’t possibly repay all of their generosity.” So, he promised to pay it forward. Hence, the Mission of the Body and Blood took shape. “In actuality, this mission belongs to everyone at Midmark,” he says.
“I toyed with the idea of helping [poor villages] in Africa back in 2010,” Eilerman continues. However, side effects from his chemotherapy and radiation treatments held him up. Once he got started, though, the Mission of the Body and Blood took off. Starting a charitable organization is not much different from what good managers do at work, he points out. “You surround yourself with great, talented people who have a desire to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged. Every person that [came] to me had experience working with a non-profit organization. I simply shut up and listened to what they had to say.
“Our goals are summed up best by the three words soul, body and mind,” he continues. “We are a non-profit organization dedicated to providing spiritual guidance, healthcare and education to the underprivileged in underdeveloped countries throughout the world. Currently we target three countries – Tanzania, Haiti and Jamaica.” Although he had always assumed any charitable work he did would involve South Africa, as luck would have it, shortly after being diagnosed with cancer, Eilerman met Fr. Benedict Magabe, a Catholic priest from Tanzania who is currently stationed in Ohio. “Fr. Magabe shared his memories as a middle class child growing up in Tanzania and [pointed out] the spiritual, medical and educational needs of the poor and underprivileged in Tanzania. I immediately recognized that their needs were as great as – or greater than – the needs of [the underprivileged in] South Africa.” Several directors at Mission of the Body and Blood have ties to Haiti and Jamaica, prompting the organization to reach out to those countries as well. “We are not limited exclusively to these countries, but we will work there until we are sure all [of those] projects are self sustaining,” says Eilerman.
“For any new or prospective location, we always do a needs assessment before entertaining another project,” he explains. “The most important factor to remember is not to spread ourselves too thin and to always try to under promise and over deliver. Ultimately, the donors dictate any mission’s success. If we can’t convey a country’s need through our passion to our donors, we are doomed to fail.” This especially holds true in today’s tenuous economic climate, he adds. That said, Eilerman’s organization is more than holding its own. “We have sent two containers to Tanzania via the port of Dar es Salaam,” he says “The first 40-foot container was filled with 32 55-gallon barrels of food grade soy meal donated by [one of our directors], Ed Werling, for use as a protein supplement for children and adults suffering from malnutrition. Ed has worked closely with a professor from Michigan State University to perfect a soy meal manufacturing process. It has proven to be a very viable protein substitute, with tests showing that 4 ounces of soy meal equal the protein content of 4 ounces of red meat.” The container also contained several Midmark M7 Sterilizers, several used Midmark examination tables, a wooden lathe to be donated to a trade school or a local furniture maker, and various suitcases filled with new clothing, he notes.
“The second 40-foot container, currently in route, is filled with smaller, low tech medical supplies, as well as hospital beds and hospital supplies,” he continues. “The entire container was donated to us from another non-profit organization, which specializes in medical and hospital equipment and supplies in exchange for some of Mitch Eiting’s used Midmark medical equipment. A third 40-foot container filled with high-tech equipment will be sent out before the end of the year to outlying clinics and dispensaries, such as St Gaspar Hospital.” And, nothing’s cheap, he points out. “Each container cost us approximately $7,000 to send.” And, looking ahead, Eilerman and his team are investigating the cost of acquiring all-terrain vehicles for transporting seriously injured or ill patients from outlaying bush areas to St. Gaspar Hospital. They anticipate a price tag of $30,000 for a small fleet of new vehicles and $10,000 for used.
Purchasing the all-terrain vehicles is the start of a long wish list of projects that Eilerman hopes to complete over the next several years. The missionary looks forward to achieving the following goals:
- Tanzania-Agriculture Project. Establish a poultry and swine operation and cultivate soybeans and maze on a 50-acre plot near the Upendo Complex in order to make the complex self sufficient. The facility will incorporate a meat market for the processing and sale of chicken and pork. The farm will be located near the 100 acres of land recently donated to The Mission of the Body and Blood in Dodoma. Desired completion date is mid-2013.
- Tanzania-Seminarian Project: Secure sponsors for 30 new seminarians at the St. Gasper Seminary for the duration of their training at a total cost of about $42,000 USD. Anticipate completing 15 seminarians by end of 2012, and 15 by end of 2013.
- Haiti-Agriculture Project: Establish a poultry operation, at a site to be determined, to enable a village to become more self-sufficient. The facility will incorporate a meat market for the processing and sale of chickens. Projected cost to be determined with completion in late 2013.
- Tanzania-Upendo Girls School Project: A school for victimized young girls who became pregnant and are expelled from secondary schools per Tanzania law. The school will be located on 100 acres of donated land in Dodoma. This will be the initial structure in the Upendo (Swahili for Love) complex and will include child care for the girls’ children while they attend school. Desired completion date 2014.
- Upendo Primary School: Desired completion date 2015.
- Upendo Nursing School with dormitories and cafeteria. Desired completion date 2016.
- Upendo Secondary School: Desired completion date 2017.
- Upendo School of Medicine: Desired completion date 2022.
Making it all work
It may not be easy juggling family, health issues and busy careers with Eilerman’s daunting list of mission goals, but with the support of family and former colleagues, he’s making it work. In the beginning his schedule was consumed with “frequent doctor visits and [cancer] treatment cycles.” Still, the time he spent in 2010 recuperating was also an opportunity to brainstorm project ideas, he notes. Leaving work on temporary disability last April has enabled him to devote more time to his mission. And, his wife “is like-minded when it comes to helping the poor, so having her at my side helps tremendously,” he says. In addition, the mission’s success rides on the shoulders of a talented team, including the following:
- Mitch Eiting, mission vice president and owner/community relations manager of Midmark.
- Ron Kramer, mission treasurer and a professor of accounting and economics at Wright State University Lake Campus.
- Joan Schnabel, mission secretary, who brings years of corporate executive experience to the organization. (She is Eilerman’s sister).
The mission’s board of directors is comprised of Eilerman, Ed Werling, Jerry Buschur, Mike Bruns, Greg Bornhorst, Jon Hoying and Sherri Hoying, all of whom contribute a host of talents and expertise, according to Eilerman. Werling is a livestock expert with 20 years of experience working for a nonprofit organization in Jamaica. Buschur, the mission’s housing and supplies expert, accompanied Werling to Tanzania last year where they designed – and donated money to – a cafeteria and meeting center at a nursing school in Intigie. The owner of a family-run construction business, Bruns is a consultant for the mission’s construction projects. Since his retirement from teaching high school chemistry and physics, Bornhorst has filled in as the mission’s educational consultant. And Jon and Sherri Hoying work in northern Haiti, where they have helped with the construction of several churches. “Jon is my nephew and has always been interested in the spiritualization of the poor and needy,” says Eilerman.
To date, Eilerman has made only one trip to Tanzania – something he looks forward to doing more frequently once his health improves. “The last trip took a lot out of me so before I make my next trip I will need to build myself up a bit,” he explains. “It will be absolutely necessary to have feet on the ground because most of these people have never been farmers, construction workers, etc. So they will have to be taught in order for them to teach others. Whether it will be me or one of my colleagues who will make the trip(s), that will be determined.”
Indeed, educating the villagers they serve is key to their mission, Eilerman points out. “Whatever we do or supply [for the villagers] must be a means to an end,” he says. “We can give them food or grain to address their immediate food needs, but we feel we need to teach them better and more efficient ways to farm. That’s just one example.” Often, it makes good sense to obtain food locally rather than ship it from the United States, he says. “Our American diet is significantly different than that in a developing country, where rice and grains are the main staples. Meat is a luxury that many can’t afford. On our last trip we helped start a poultry operation at the St. Gaspar Seminary, which is designed to produce 300 butchering chickens every two weeks. We contracted with a local veterinarian to oversee the operation the first year and make sure that the seminarians learn how to fish. The new poultry operation, along with the existing hog operation, should supply ample meat for the seminarians and allow a surplus to be sold at their butcher shop.”
Manpower and financial aid are equally important, he notes. “Money is without a doubt the single most important part of any mission work,” Eilerman says. “We have sent several containers of used medical equipment, food, clothing and supplies. Each time we send a container from the United States, it costs around $7,000 for shipping. Ideally we would get our materials from the county where the project is based. When buying in a developing country, however, supplies are limited and those available are of questionable quality.” Medical equipment, drugs (particularly for malaria during the rainy season) and computers are in high demand. Cell phones are another story. “Believe it or not, almost everybody in Tanzania has a cell phone since there are no land lines for conventional telephones,” he says. “With that in mind, telemedicine via smart phones may have some potential in at least this area of Africa.”
“Whatever project we work on, we will need feet on the ground,” he continues. “If money wasn’t an issue, I would love to have some college graduates volunteer to help in Tanzania. What better way to enhance your resume than to show where your priorities are and that you can handle whatever the job throws at you.”
Eilerman wants to be clear about one more thing: “Our mission uses less than one-half of 1 percent for administrative fees, so 99.5 cents of every dollar goes directly to the projects,” he says. “Nobody [here is] on a payroll.
“I would like to get the world to a point where the poor don’t have to spend the majority of their day searching for sustenance,” he continues. Instead, he would like to see them “concentrate on obtaining a reasonable education so that they can be in control of their destiny.”
For more information about the Mission of the Body and Blood, please visit www.missionofthebodyandblood.org.