One freezing evening in October 2017 Friedrich Machein sits in Sloviansk in eastern Ukraine: “Today this year’s first snow has fallen. We saw it through the window as we sat together in the office this evening. For me the snow is a sign that another year with arche noVa is slowly passing. But how did it all begin?”
It began on a Sunday morning in summer 1989, when Friedrich Machein woke up and decided to change his life. “I was born into a merchant family and studied retail merchandising, but never wanted to be a merchant myself”, he tells us about his state by then. After years of missing orientation it became clear to him that he wanted to “work in water engineering and do something useful”. The next day he signed up for a technical college, one year later he switched to the University of Applied Sciences and became a civil engineer.
Abroad after the studies
During his studies Friedrich Machein got to know the work outside of the wealth of the European continent. “I got a call from a consultant in Düsseldorf, who asked me what is was going to do in coming April and I told him I was going to attend my lectures. But he just told me: No, in April you are going to work for us in Yemen”. And that’s what happened. Two weeks after the end of the war between North and South Yemen Friedrich Machein already was on the way. Yet during the flight he had a first impression of what would await him: a country full of destruction, little infrastructure and a wide, barren landscape. “There was tracer ammunition rising into the dark night sky right next to us. How should I have known there was a wedding party firing shots of joy into the air”.
The stay was dangerous and enduring for the young man. “People were very religious and as rigid and relentless as the desert itself where they lived in.” In Yemen Friedrich Machein had to fall back on a skill he had to train since his childhood: the ability to be alone. “My father deceased after a long disease when I was nine years old. My mother was long-term night guard in the hospital. That was the reason I was on my own practically all of the nights and learned how to handle my fears.”
As an engineer in Africa
After his stay in Yemen his journey brought him to Benin in Western Africa. He actually didn’t even want to go there, he had originally applied as a development worker in Nepal. But his employer sent him into the francophone Western Africa. After Benin Uganda and Kenia followed. „During the years I noticed that my engineer studies could only answer half of the questions coming up during such a development project. The handling of social questions, working with people, how sustainability can be reached in cooperation with the target group, were left open for me”, the engineer remembers.
With arche noVa in civil war-torn Sri Lanka
That’s why he decided for a master’s degree study in “sustainable rural development” in Aberdeen, Scotland. The next move was the one towards arche noVa, where Friedrich Machein was employed in 2006. His first mission led him to Sri Lanka, where the emergency aid program of arche noVa was expiring and the civil war between Tamils and Sinhalese was moving into focus. “In cooperation with the Department for Foreign Affairs and Unicef we were responsible for the water supply for 120 000 refugees in the region of Batticaloa. A tough year was awaiting us, with tanker duty on seven days a week and big construction projects in the refugee camps. Everything in direct proximity to the firing line and under curfew. However it was a great year with a fantastic local team that rewarded me for the efforts with so much love and engagement.”
Infected by the arche noVa spirit
In Sri Lanka Friedrich Machein had learned one thing: arche noVa was different than the other aid organizations. “We had less international staff, a smaller office, an extremely engaged team and way lesser money. Nevertheless we performed little wonders and that never was forgotten on-site. As I came back to Batticaloa from missions in Ghana and Indonesia in 2010, the rumors spread fast. ‘Fred is back’ they said in the village and nearly every former workmate came back.”
The following project from 2010 until 2012 was the best one he ever led for arche noVa, in his opinion. “Together with the team we developed exciting ideas for the water supply. For example tanks made out of ferro cement for storing the water, because the water access from the wells never made it through the drought season. We built simple pumps out of plastic tubes which the villagers were able to construct themselves and were cheap enough so everyone could afford them. We even invented whole waterworks in our workshops.”