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The U.S. border is opening!

That is news Kelsey Friesen, Volunteer Manager for Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) Canada, has waited a long time to hear.

The border between the U.S. and Canada closed to non-essential travel in March 2020 due to the pandemic. Canada opened its border to fully vaccinated Americans in August; on November 8 the U.S. will do the same, allowing vaccinated Canadians to come in again.

This includes those who want to volunteer with MDS in that country.

“Every year about 600 Canadians go south to volunteer with MDS,” said Friesen. “Some go longer, combining it with winter vacations, others go for shorter times to help people impacted by disasters.”

Among them are a key group of leadership volunteers, people who serve for a month or more as project directors, crew leaders, administrators and cooks.

Learning new skills, Kevin and Teresa Bueckert.

“The pandemic has created a challenge for MDS since we depend on Canadian leadership volunteers to help run so many projects,” she said.

Together with other impacts from the pandemic, MDS in the U.S. has had to reduce the number of projects in that country—even though there are many needs due to disasters like hurricanes, flooding and wildfires.

“It will be great when Canadians can once again go to the U.S., since that’s where most of the disasters occur each year and where MDS is most active,” Friesen said. “We are all anxious to get back to normal.”

To gauge interest in when Canadians are prepared to return to service, MDS Canada sent out a survey in October to leadership and weekly volunteers. Most indicated they would be ready to return no earlier than January 2022.

Many indicated they appreciate MDS’s efforts to keep people safe by requiring all volunteers to wear masks and take a COVID test upon arrival at project sites.

For MDS Executive Director Kevin King, news about the border is a cause for celebration.

“I receive the news with joy and elation to hear that Canadian volunteers will once again be travelling south to our MDS projects,” he said.

Natural disasters did not take a break during the pandemic, he added, noting there were over 20 named storms along with fires and floods throughout the U.S. over the past 19 months.

“Our partners in Louisiana and Washington State have asked, ‘when are they coming?’” he said of how they are waiting for help from MDS.

“Our shared commitment of volunteers from two countries speaks hope to these communities, along with our common vision as Americans and Canadians to work together to help those affected by disasters.”

Before Canadians volunteer

Before Canadians sign up to volunteer with MDS in the U.S., Friesen wants to remind them of a few things that are currently governing travel.

  • Due to U.S. travel requirements, everyone needs to be vaccinated to enter that country.

  • People travelling by air need to provide a negative COVID test to enter the U.S. and a negative COVID test to re-enter Canada.
  • People travelling by land do not need a COVID test to get into the U.S., but currently still need one to return to Canada.
  • Travel insurance is available for COVID, but volunteers should call and confirm with their health insurance provider.
  • Before going, Canadians should check COVID infection rates in the places they wish to serve to ensure they are comfortable with going to those places.

For more information about volunteering, contact MDS Canada at 1-866-261-1274 or mdscanada@mds.org

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