On Thursday 27th October, I celebrate another birthday (scientific studies have proven that having birthdays is good for your health!). I took my first breath all those years ago at 3:33am, the official time of my birth. Since that time, I have drawn breath for a total of 29,453,760 minutes, save for a minute or so once when momentarily unconscious (but that’s another story).
Remember that number of minutes for later in this blog…29,453,760.
As a Merck/MSD Fellow, when I first arrived in Seattle with my 3 Afrigen team-mates, we noted the obvious level of homelessness in the city. The weather was still very nice in August and the number of people sleeping rough was all too obvious and confronting. Some of the places they chose to doss down defied belief, like the blue-tent home of an individual that stood out proudly on an I5 highway embankment, there for all to witness, should they care to actually look. It left me with a sense of helplessness for the homeless and begging the question “What really could I do about it?”
As much as working on the Fellowship for Afrigen has been inspiring due to the vision IDRI have of bringing better health to the peoples of Africa and other developing nations of the world, I still felt a sense of not being truly connected to the end goal or outcomes. My other Fellows and I contributed to a high level, as evidenced by the feedback of the stakeholders we were working for and the successful conclusion of our project. But I didn’t get a sense of being ‘with the people’ that would ultimately benefit from our labours, unlike maybe some of the project teams who were embedded within the communities they were serving?
As it happened, our project deliverables were concluded with a few days left to run of our Fellowship time, before we travel to Kenilworth for our Reintegration session. That prompted me to consider how best to use what remaining time I had left. For me that meant volunteering and being of service.
I chose the local Salvation Army food bank to do just that. One of approximately 2 dozen such food banks in the wider Seattle area, they cater to not only the homeless, but those in need due to lack of employment, illness, people with drug and/or alcohol abuse issues or those that have just fallen on hard times and need a helping hand. After completing the necessary paperwork and background checks, I turned up to the Salvation Army offices on Pike St one Monday morning to report for volunteer duty. I was immediately put to work unloading food trucks, of goods donated by various organisations such as the local supermarket chain, QFC. Over the next few hours, I also stacked shelves in the food bank warehouse, prepped food parcels for the homeless (these bags are called NC or ‘non-cook’, for the homeless very rarely get access to cooking facilities to prepare meals for themselves) and got to know my dedicated band of volunteers, who expressed their gratitude that I should give up my time to help them. They were also intrigued by ‘the Kiwi boy from New Zealand’
The following day, I spent another 3 hours dealing directly with clients as they came in through the warehouse doors that opened at 1:00pm. Approximately 30 people were served that day, most of them middle age men, with a couple of young mums with kiddies in tow and the obvious truly homeless people. I managed my shift with grace and had many interesting conversations with some (others were not in the mood for idle chat!). Once we closed the doors for the day, it was clean-up time and a chance for me to engage more with my fellow volunteers. I got to learn of their motivations to help, some of their life-stories and encouraged a couple of photo opportunities…fascinating and humbling.
I plan to return to the depot on Thurs, my birthday. This I do deliberately as a gesture. When I total the time I devoted to serving clients of the Seattle Salvation Army, that number comes to 660 minutes. Remember the number I quoted above? Well 660 minutes represents a mere 0.00224% of the time I have lived to date. Just imagine what could be achieved if all of us ‘donated’ less than 1% of our time to a cause like the Salvation Army?
So I challenge you the reader of this blog, to give of your time, just a little, maybe even less than 1% and it will make a difference!
Kim Fry is a Senior Account Manager at MSD NZ Ltd…he is currently on a three month Fellowship for a Global Health Program moving between South Africa and Seattle. See our prevous Q&A with Kim for more info.