We are sorry that we have not posted in a while. We have been sailing all around the Fijian Islands. Unfortunately here we have found SO many children, that we haven't nearly enough supplies to go around. What we have been doing instead, is giving smaller amounts of supplies to individual families we meet along the way.... There is SO much need!
It has been a little frustrating.
We also found out in the last week that the article written about our work in the United Church Observer magazine is no longer available online. It seems that someone complained about it and it has been removed. We have no idea what was in the article that could offend or upset someone, so here it is:
The Wind at Their Backs BY SHEIMA BENEMBAREK
Four years ago, Rev. Kyle Benger and his wife, Shelley, launched the Right to Write ministry. Now they're sailing the world, delivering school supplies to kids in need.
With their sailboat docked at Opua, a port in northern New Zealand, Rev. Kyle Benger and his wife,
Shelley, are busy making plans to set sail. They figure they'll need about 10 days of moderate weather on the South Pacific Ocean to cover the 1,200 nautical miles to Fiji, the next destination on their life-changing journey.
It's early April, the end of cyclone season, and Shelley explains they've been checking the forecast
constantly. Picking the right 10 days is tricky, but a weather window seems to have opened up. Getting ready to ship out makes for a hectic day, but it certainly beats the office. "I don't think anyone
ever got to the end of their life wishing they'd spent another day at work," Kyle says as they both laugh.
Four years ago, the couple combined their love of travelling with their care and concern for others by creating a ministry called Right to Write. Their mandate is to distribute school supplies to children in need as they explore the world on their sailboat. They're under no illusions. As Kyle narrated in a promotional video in early 2014, "This ministry will not change the world." But the need is there, and they hope their efforts will "bring some joy to some children along the way."
After ordination in 1996, Benger began his career working alternately as minister and interim minister at United churches in the Ontario communities of Roseville, Mississauga and Cambridge.
But interim ministry work was hard on his family. And so when he heard the two-point Eramosa pastoral charge, made up of Barrie Hill and Speedside United churches, near Guelph, Ont., was looking for a minister, he applied and happily ministered there for 11 years.
The Bengers, however, always had a wanderlust. "From the time that we've known each other, we've gone places and seen things," Kyle explains. And so they made the decision, over a decade ago, that they would raise their four children and then retire and spend the rest of their days exploring the world. In 2010, they bought a 30-year-old 14-metre ketch-rigged sailboat from South Carolina and christened it Blowin' Bubbles. With the help of friends from Barrie Hill United, they slowly refitted their future home.
In November 2012, they travelled to Cuba. A month earlier, Hurricane Sandy had swept through the country, destroying homes, knocking out electricity and water services, and interrupting basics such as health care and education. The Bengers arrived with 23 kilograms of school supplies to distribute.
Not long into their trip, they visited a small school in a village outside Santiago de Cuba and were surprised to find the children erasing sheets of paper on their desks. The teacher explained that they were so short of paper that the students had to erase the notes from the previous day to take new ones that day. "We had a suitcase full of school supplies that we were going to spread out, but we just gave it all to the one school," Benger says. They were saddened by how little this community had and felt compelled to help these students and others like them.
That's when the concept for the new ministry was born.
Soon after returning to Canada, they named their mission the Right to Write Ministry and shared their
experience with friends, family and church members. "Everybody thought it was a good idea," Shelley says. "It just kind of snowballed." Barrie Hill and Speedside United churches embraced the initiative.
Before they left on their worldwide journey, the Bengers had gathered far more school supplies than they could safely carry, given the space restrictions on board. And so on the morning of July 1, 2014, they loaded their boat to capacity and set sail, leaving the rest of the supplies in the hands of church
volunteers to store and ship to them when possible.
Their new life on a sailboat began as they sailed from Hamilton to New York City, then down the astern seaboard to Florida, toward their first Right to Write destination: back to Cuba.
It's been three years since the I Bengers left Canada. After Cuba, they went to Mexico, Honduras, Colombia, Panama and then across the Pacific. They've been through all of French Polynesia, Niue, Tonga and the Cook Islands. For the first two years of their journey, Benger says, Barrie Hill and Speedside United churches "were really incredibly supportive," shipping containers to Panama, for example. But soon enough, a problem arose: shipping the goods became more expensive than they were worth. And so the couple began buying the supplies locally. In New Zealand, Kyle found
a warehouse store that was selling packs of coloured pencils for $1. He bought 500 of them.
The Bengers are also conscious of the impact their charity work can have on the environment of
the countries they visit. When they get to areas that are equipped with recycling bins, they remove the
packaging in order to avoid littering. Crafty church members help to keep the supplies contained: "Our church ladies have been sewing us drawstring pencil cases, and so we take all the packaging off," Shelley explains. "We put in some coloured pencils, regular pencils, a sharpener, an eraser — and give out the pencil cases so no garbage is going out to the islands."
Removing the packaging solves another problem, one they first encountered in Cuba: a day after
they'd distributed the supplies, the Bengers discovered the donated items at the local market, where they learned the teachers had taken and resold them. Kyle is sympathetic: "They needed the money. That's their reality."
Barrie Hill and Speedside United churches no longer officially support Right to Write. But some individual church members, along with the Bengers' friends and family, still do. Right to Write is not a registered charity and can't issue tax receipts; not having a church to handle the cash donations complicates things. "It used to be really easy. Because when people made monetary gifts to us, it was given as a church donation. Everything went through the church," Kyle says. People can still send money through the Bengers' Right to Write blog, which links to PayPal. Money received is spent only on purchasing and distributing school supplies, he says. The Bengers use their savings and Kyle's pension for all their personal needs. Nevertheless, support is waning. "People just don't seem as willing to part with $10 as they are with $10 worth of goods," Shelley says. But they're too far away to receive goods; the logistics simply don't work. The Bengers haven't forgotten their original motivation — to help impoverished children and to see the world. Some stops, like their visit to New Zealand, are more leisure than work. But the downtime also gives the couple a chance to take stock and plan their next distribution. "We really work hard to try to figure out where we can be most effective," Kyle says.
At times, that means being responsive to local needs. In Honduras, for example, the school director thanked them for the school supplies but stressed that they really needed a functioning washroom for the school of over 300 students.
The Bengers went online and asked their supporters to help them come up with US$500. Within two hours, they had the money. A week later, the washroom was built — equipped with a big water tank, three toilets and all the plumbing.
Back on Blowin' Bubbles in the Opua port, the couple have just made plans for a restocking ride into
Paihia, the next town over. They'll soon leave for Fiji, which was devastated by Cyclone Winston in February 2016 and still needs all sorts of supplies. Although they organized their journey and mission to try to maintain some support, nowadays, Kyle says, "We don't get much," but "whatever we get, we work with." At 56 and 48, respectively, Kyle and Shelley Benger still have plenty of wind in their sails and will keep at it until they "run out of money, courage or time," as Kyle puts it. The hope other churches, schools and organizations will learn about Right to Write and support them.
"It's about giving kids pencils anc crayons and coloured pencils and things they can learn with," Benger says. "That's why we do this, and it makes a difference."
Sheima Benembarek is a journalist in Toronto
Thank you to everyone who does support us. Without help, we could not do this.....
Kyle & Shelley