Henry Enns and the Mennonite Central Committee

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Henry Enns 1988

Henry Enns in 1988.[1]

Enns Choses His Own Goals

Before he was elected as Chairperson of Disabled Peoples’ International, Henry Enns had been involved with disability advocacy for years with the Mennonite Central Committee of Canada (MCC). The MCC became pivotal to the early success of DPI, both through financial support and, more importantly, through its sustained support of talented individuals.

Henry Enns was born in Russia. His parents fled the country during the Second World War with Henry and his seven younger siblings. They passed through East and West Germany, then settled in Paraguay where they lived for seven years until ultimately moving to Canada in 1954. Henry was eleven when his family settled in Steinbach, Manitoba.[2] He developed rheumatoid arthritis in his high school years and by graduation required a wheelchair.[3] When he applied to study Social Work at the University of Winnipeg (UW), the university resisted in part because the campus was not wheelchair accessible. A persuasive and optimistic personality, Enns convinced the registrar to allow him to study for a probationary semester to demonstrate that he could manage.

During his time at UW, Enns spent his summers living in a rehab hospital at the university’s Health Science Centre. Flare-ups of his rheumatoid arthritis repeatedly left him in debilitating pain. The medical professionals at the hospital focused his treatment on “rehabilitation”, which meant keeping him on his feet and walking without a wheelchair. At a certain point, Enns realized that that his attempts to walk were exacerbating the arthritic flare-ups and worsening his disability, leaving him in so much pain that he could not function. He decided that walking need not be his ultimate goal. He believed that, in his case, maximizing his quality of life meant accepting life in a wheelchair. It worked; his health improved and his pain returned to more manageable levels. He left the Health Science Centre, excelled in his studies, and completed a Bachelor of Social Work, all the while having friends carry him and his wheelchair into and out of buildings and lecture halls.[4]

This case was illustrative of (and likely an influence on) the outlook on disability and choice that would guide Enns through his life of advocacy and social work. In leaving the Health Science Centre, he was in no way giving up on living a full and mobile life. On the contrary, he chose to live a full and mobile life by giving up on the rehabilitation-focused medical model of how he should go about living. The doctors, physiotherapists, and occupational therapists at the rehab hospital certainly had good intentions, and their knowledge and skills gave them a tremendous ability to help people with disabilities. The key, to Enns and the founders of DPI, was to help disabled people achieve their own goals and not decide those goals for them.[5]

After his degree, Enns became interested in the consumer movement and its implications for advocacy. As consumers and citizens, disabled people had the ability to employ collective action to agitate for their rights and to convince governments and companies that there in fact weredisabled rights. In 1975, he became a Community Development Officer with the Manitoba League of the Physically Handicapped and in 1979 helped to found the Coalition of Provincial Organizations of the Handicapped.[6]

Enns was a member of the Mennonite faith, which was among the reasons that his family had to flee Russia during the Second World War. In 1979, he submitted a proposal to the Mennonite Central Committee in Winnipeg. He wanted to become a Voluntary Service worker for the MCC and work with Mennonite congregations across Canada to educate and sensitize them to the needs of disabled people. The MCC Canada program director, Dave Dyck had a personal interest in disability and, along with Enns, created the MCC Canada Handicap Awareness Project.[7] In 1980, Enns began a two-year (later extended) voluntary service assignment as a consultant on disability issues.[8]

MCC Logo

Present day logo for the Mennonite Central Committee.[9]

The MCCC Gets Involved

The Mennonite Central Committee is, in Enns’ words, “the international service and relief agency of the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in the United States and Canada”.[10] It serves as a central hub to organize and deploy charitable funds and supplies gathered from a wide range of constituent churches. While the diverse churches and communities that contribute to the MCC may differ in certain points of theology or lifestyle, they share a commitment to, according to the stated objectives, “respond to human need through the utilization of the personnel and financial resources”.[11] There is, today and at the time of DPI’s founding, a Canadian MCC based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and a US MCC based in Akron Pennsylvania. Though the two national units operate in close communication, their charitable projects are administered largely separately. Unless otherwise stated, “MCC” in this exhibit refers to MCC Canada.[12]

Central to the MCC’s charitable work at this time was the Volunteer Service Program (VS), which had over 750 personnel working in some 45 countries in agriculture, education, health, social services, and economic and technical development.[13] The VS program provided financial support to voluntary service workers serving two- to three-year assignments on MCC projects. This support was not a salary, but only intended to cover basic living expenses.[14] In 1981, MCC Canada had 92 volunteers on VS programs, rising to 115 then 140 over the following few years.[15] The program priorities at the time of DPI’s founding were, “Native Concerns, Victim-Offender Ministries, [and] the handicapped”.[16] The third priority was reworded to, “services to and with the handicapped” in 1983.[17] Partly through Enns’ work and example, disability issues became an increasing focus of the VS program over the first half of the decade.[18] 

In 1980, Enns and Dave Dyck created the Handicapped Awareness Project. The project centered on Enns serving a two-year (which was later extended) term as a Voluntary Service worker (or VSer). The initial plan was for him to spend 2 or 3 months in each province, starting with British Columbia and ending in Ontario, where he would conduct workshops at constituent conferences and conference schools to raise awareness of disability issues and develop an advisory committee for each province to pursue greater integration of disabled members of each community.[19] Within a few years, the project mandate had expanded to include the goal of making every constituent church and building wheelchair accessible, developing a new system of independent living centers, and supporting the early years of Disabled Peoples’ International. To reflect this broader mandate, and in recognition of the importance of the full range of disabilities, in 1983 the project name was changed to Handicap Concerns Programs.[20] Enns served as the Director of Handicapped Concerns from the program’s inception until August 1986 while also working variously as the Chairman, Deputy Chair, and UN spokesperson for Disabled Peoples’ International.[21] His energy and passion were so inexhaustible that, when he left the director position, the MCC established an entire committee to take up his duties.[22] Dave Dyck enshrined in policy that at least 50% of the Handicapped Concerns Committee would be disabled or the parents of a disabled child.[23] 

When the DPI Steering Committee decided to hold the first DPI World Congress in conjunction with the UN in Singapore, newly-elected Chairman Henry Enns submitted a form to the MCC VS program requesting a volunteer to work for one year as a “Community Development Officer”.[24] He explained that the “main emphasis of project is to organize the World Conference in Singapore. This involves contacting resource people, assisting with fund raising, communication and correspondence of the Steering Committee”.[25] It is worth highlighting that he was thus asking the MCC to materially support a secular organization as part of its charitable mandate. “Our organization is concerned about improving the living conditions of some 500 million people on the earth”, he wrote in his VS request form, “Many of our members are Christians but the organization is not a ‘Christian organization’”.[26]

Enns called Diane Driedger and asked if she would like to go to Singapore. Driedger was a university student who had worked with the Manitoba League of the Physically Handicapped in the summer of 1980, where she first met fellow volunteer Enns.[27] A nondisabled person with an interest in social movements, she was excited at the prospect of helping to establish first world organization of disabled people from the ground floor.[28] She was also a member of the Mennonite community. Driedger applied and was approved for a one-year Voluntary Service position with DPI starting in May 1981.[29] There was much work to be done.

Enns VS Request Form

Henry Enns submitted this job description for a Community Development Officer to the Mennonite Central Committee’s Volunteer Service program. Diane Driedger would take up the position and provide invaluable work to the new DPI organization.[30]

___________________________________

Carleton University Disability Research Group. Research, interview, text, and design by Ryan Patterson.

Ryan would like to thank the Mennonite Central Committee for their generous support, the archivist team at the Mennonite Heritage Centre Archives for their invaluable assistance and acess to records, Chantel Fehr for providing helpful digital records, and special thanks to Professor Diane Driedger for her time, insight, and encouragement.

[1] Henry Enns 1988, 1988, .jpg, “Memory into the Future”, Disabled Peoples’ International, http://memoryintofuture.org/historical-photos-of-dpi.

[2] D. John McLean, “Henry Enns Doing His Bit”, Caliper, September 1983, pp. 14-18, MCC Canada Files 1983, Volume 4357, 876 R, 1983, Handicap Concerns, CA HAND, p. 14.

[3] Esther Epp-Tiessen, Mennonite Central Committee in Canada: A History, Winnipeg: Canadian Mennonite University Press, 2013, p. 134.

[4] Diane Driedger, (Assistant Professor of Disability Studies, University of Manitoba), Interview with Ryan Patterson, June 1, 2018, transcript, Carleton University Disability Research Group, Ottawa.

[5] Ibid.

[6] McLean, “Henry Enns Doing His Bit”, p. 15; Epp-Tiessen, Mennonite Central Committee in Canada, p. 134.

[7] Epp-Tiessen, Mennonite Central Committee in Canada, p. 134.

[8] McLean, “Henry Enns Doing His Bit”, p. 16; Dave Dyck, “Voluntary Service Report”, Report to meeting #113 (Sep 25-26, 1981), Exhibit 7, MCCC Heritage Archives, Winnipeg, p. 1.

[9] MCC Logo, 2019, .jpg, Mennonite Central Committee of Canada, Winnipeg, https://mcccanada.ca.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Dave Dyck, “Voluntary Service Program: Assumptions, Objectives, Goals, 1981”, Report to meeting #109, Jan 23-24, 1981, MCCC Heritage Archives, Winnipeg, p. 1.

[12] Driedger, Interview with Ryan Patterson.

[13] McLean, “Henry Enns Doing His Bit”, p. 16.

[14] Driedger, Interview with Ryan Patterson.

[15] Dyck, “Voluntary Service Report”, p. 4; Anon., “Voluntary Service Program: Assumptions, Objectives, Goals for 1983”, Report to meeting #123 (Jan 20-22, 1983), Exhibit 7, MCCC Heritage Archives, Winnipeg, p. 3.

[16] Dyck, “Voluntary Service Program: Assumptions, Objectives, Goals, 1981”, p. 1-2.

[17] Anon., “Voluntary Service Program: Assumptions, Objectives, Goals for 1983”, p. 2.

[18] Anon., “Background Paper for Recommendation to Discontinue the Position of Director of the Handicap Concerns Program and to Establish an MCC Handicap Concerns Committee to the Mennonite Central Committee Canada Annual Meeting”, Report to meeting #151 (Jan 16-18, 1986), Exhibit 12, MCCC Heritage Archives, Winnipeg, p. 2.

[19] Dyck, “Voluntary Service Program: Assumptions, Objectives, Goals, 1981”, p. 2.

[20] Anon., “Background Paper for Recommendation to Discontinue the Position of Director of the Handicap Concerns Program”, p. 3.

[21] Henry Enns, “Handicap Concerns Program Report to the Mennonite Central Committee Canada Executive Committee Meeting”, Report to meeting #146 (May 23-24, 1985), Exhibit 12, MCCC Heritage Archives, Winnipeg, p. 3.

[22] Anon., “Background Paper for Recommendation to Discontinue the Position of Director of the Handicap Concerns Program”; Dave Dyck, “Proposal for the establishment of a Handicap Concerns Committee for Mennonite Central Committee Canada”, Jun 17-18, 1983, MCC Canada Files 1983, Volume 4357, 876 R, 1983, Handicap Concerns, CA HAND, p. 1.

[23] Dyck, “Proposal for the establishment of a Handicap Concerns Committee”, p. 2.

[24] Henry Enns, “Questionnaire for Organizations Considering Working in Partnership with MCC (Canada) VS”, MCC Canada Files 1982, Volume 4319, 767 R, 1982, Disabled Peoples International, MB CA VOLU, p. 3.

[25] Henry Enns, “MCC (Canada) VS Job Description”, MCC Canada Files 1982, Volume 4319, 767 R, 1982, Disabled Peoples International, MB CA VOLU.

[26] Enns, “Questionnaire for Organizations Considering Working in Partnership with MCC (Canada) VS”, p. 1.

[27] Diane Driedger, “First VS Report From Diane Driedger, Disabled People International, Winnipeg”, MCC Canada Files 1982, Volume 4319, 767 R, 1982, Disabled Peoples International, MB CA VOLU, p. 2; Driedger, Interview with Ryan Patterson.

[28] Diane Driedger, The Last Civil Rights Movement: Disabled Peoples’ International (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989), p. 49. Available for digital loan on Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/lastcivilrightsm00drie/page/n3; Diane Lynn Driedger, The Origins and History of Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI) 1945-1985, MA in History, University of Manitoba, 1987, p. 65. Available through the University of Manitoba thesis repository: https://mspace.lib.umanitoba.ca/xmlui/handle/1993/9408.

[29] Driedger, Interview with Ryan Patterson.

[30] Henry Enns, “MCC (Canada) VS Job Description”, MCC Canada Files 1982, Volume 4319, 767 R, 1982, Disabled Peoples International, MB CA VOLU.