OSU 2015 Buck-I-SERV Blogs
Sunday, January 4, 2015
For as long as I can remember, I have always been told to “serve” others. Serving is the good Christian thing to do, it’s a requirement for all of your school’s clubs and organizations, and it’s what will get you into a good university. But, to me, service was just collecting the winter clothes that could no longer fit me or donating the canned goods that I would never eat anyways. After I cleaned out my house or my parents’ pantry, I felt like I have done a good deed and could log a few hours of community service. I never really understood how to effectively help, nor did I understand how I could actually be hurting those who I was trying to help. Through my first day at Partners for Care, I’ve had my eyes opened to what helping actually entails. Eight other volunteers from The Ohio State University and I are staying at the home of Connie Cheren, the President/Founder of Partners for Care, for the duration of our time in Alpharetta.
During our first day, we met at 9am to discuss our goals for the week and to discuss what it is we were going to be doing with our time here. Within that one hour of listening to Connie’s stories and her passion for the work that she does, I became so much more excited for the week that was ahead of us. She later took us to the United Methodist Church in Clarkston, GA to donate some bagels and cookies from Panera. Clarkston is famous because it turned from a 90% white populated sleepy, southern town to an international hub in 20 years. As soon as we walked in, we heard singing in a language I have never heard of before. As I stood awkwardly in the back, I watched all these people singing and dancing, worshiping God with so much passion. It only took a minute for members of the congregation to come up and greet us, making us feel less like intruders. Later, while we were singing hymns from their book (also written in a language that I couldn’t understand), multiple members crossed the aisle to give us hymnals and show us where we were in the song. What really touched me was when the Pastor stopped the service to have all of us, as guests, introduce ourselves. He then told us that we “always have a seat in this church,” really welcoming us into their family. I have never had such a warm welcome, especially with a group that I had just met. Their kindness and openness touched my heart. There are people, just like them, suffering in Kenya from illnesses that we have the opportunity to help this week.
I’ve always considered myself a pretty opened minded person. You can call yourself “accepting of everyone” and “open to diversity,” but it’s not until you throw yourself into a different environment with completely different people that you see what you are truly made of. I realized when I walked into that church, with so much diversity and love in it, that I had so much more to learn, not only about others and their culture, but also about myself. While working with Connie this week, we are excited to listen to stories about her travels, learning and work with Partners for Care, and truly understand how to serve others without causing harm.
Solar Lights – Lighting Up Africa
As our second day in Alpharetta draws to a close, I am amazed at everything that our Buckeye group was able to learn and accomplish throughout the day. We spent the majority of our day immersed in the furthering the message and mission of Partners for Care and possibly consuming too much of the chocolate conveniently placed in front of us. We were fortunate to have Connie provide insight, advice, and an array of projects for our group to work on during the week, despite the plumber fixing her broken water heater competing for her attention. Yet, amidst the chaos of Connie’s “remodel” and the installation of the new water heater in the PFC office, it was truly wonderful to see our group come together with our varied backgrounds and educational focuses, embrace the tasks at hand, and begin to collaborate and learn how we can impact PFC during our short week in Alpharetta. Today, I chose to research the impact that portable solar lamps could have in developing countries like Kenya. PFC is promoting a campaign called “The Gift Box of Life” in which a small donation provides a gift box to a child in Kenya full of simple, though potentially life-changing products. These products include a treated mosquito net, a water pack, and a portable solar lamp. According to the UN, nearly 1.5 billion people across the globe live “off the grid” or without electricity. This number includes 85% of Kenyans. Therefore, it is clear how profound of an impact a portable solar lamp could have. Currently, many people in Kenya and countries throughout subSaharan Africa use kerosene lamps to cook their food and light their homes. However, there are many expenses and health risks associated with these lamps, including increased indoor air pollution leading to increased childhood pneumonia and smoke-related illnesses. During my research, I came across a powerful image titled “The World at Night” that depicted the world lit up at night. It is probably not surprising to anyone that the United States and Europe were as bright as a brand new lightbulb while Africa and many other places around the world spend their nights in complete darkness. Throughout my research, the reoccurring message that became apparent to me was the idea that the portable solar lamps could bring opportunity to the people in Kenya. The lights provided an opportunity for Kenyan woman to make a living selling the lamps, the opportunity for children to have more light to complete their homework, thereby furthering their education, the opportunity for people, especially women, to feel safer from violence and sexual assaults, the opportunity for people to spend more time creating their artistic goods, thereby improving their way of life, and much more. I feel as though in my life I define an opportunity as a major experience that potentially shapes my future or helps me secure the job I want. However, today provided me with the perspective that something as simple as a single solar lamp is an opportunity within itself. I know that I will leave this Buck-I-Serv trip with that understanding. I want to be more aware of the simple opportunities in my life and the way I could use these opportunities to improve not only my life, but more importantly the lives of others. As our group spends more and more time with Connie, we are amazed at all of her stories and the words of wisdom she shares with us. Today, she left us with the idea to “Just Say Yes.” No matter where life takes us or what goals we have in mind, it is sometimes best to “Just Say Yes” to the experiences and opportunities life provides us, as we do not know how these experiences could redirect or change our life and our goals. As college students, I think it is easy to focus on one goal or one career. However, life is probably one of the most unpredictable things, next to Ohio’s weather, and therefore, Connie’s message is one I wanted to share and hopefully embrace in my life going forward. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more updates from our group throughout the week!
All the Best,
Anyone Can Help
My Name is Lexi. I’m a fourth year Microbiology major at Ohio State, so coming into this trip, I knew the facts, numbers, and stats about water-borne illness, HIV, Malaria, and Jiggers. This team of people has completely opened my eyes in even the short time I’ve been here with Partners For Care. Connie, Sharon, Dan and Mari have shown such passion for the human side of the microbes I see under the microscope. They aren’t afraid to look at what Jiggers does to a child and do what they can to help. They face problems head on, take risks, and sacrifice so much. Sometimes I hide behind the science because the reality of the implications of these diseases are really terrible and hard to see. I tell myself that doing the science is enough to make an impact and help those who are suffering. Really, in my life, what risks have I taken? What leaps of faith? I lead a wonderfully blessed and quite frankly cushy life. I have no right to complain about a broken hot water heater, when people have to walk 30 minutes to fetch water from a river and boil it or add chemicals to make it safe to drink. Having safe water, living a healthy life, and not having a floor that is made of cow dung are all things I’ve taken for granted.
Today I ate a hot breakfast and went downstairs for a morning meeting with Connie and the rest of the Ohio State Buck-I-Serv team. Connie started listing tasks: updating the Pinterest Board, Facebook, Twitter, organizing donations and store rooms of Inua Merchandise, brainstorming donor recognition ideas, and researching cultural and behavioral change. I started to panic because I knew close to nothing about any of this. The wonderfully talented people on the team began volunteering a number of skills and I took the only job that I had any experience in whatsoever: Data entry. I want to work for the CDC some day and the PackH2O project seemed right up that public health alley. PackH2O is a plastic backpack that acts as a container for storage, transport and solar sterilization of water. Partners For Care and Habitat for Humanity have distributed them among underprivileged communities in Eastern Africa. The surveys were of men and women, how far and in what way they carried their water, how they stored it, how they cleaned it, and what kinds of houses they lived in, and then the dramatic shift and behavior change that was witnessed when PackH2O was introduced.
Today was eye-opening in several ways.
1) I don’t really like data entry, but Partners For Care is an outcome oriented organization, and being a part of making those outcomes quantitative and tangible was an honor.
2) I’m not really cut out for the intimidating and foreign inner workings of a Non-for-profit, and that’s okay. I see a need though, and I am so happy there are people like Partners For Care who have the heart and make the sacrifices to make it a success.
3) Any help, no matter what form and no matter how small, is still a help. A single raindrop raises the sea. I may spend most of my life in Biosafety Level 3 wearing gloves behind a lab bench, but if I can help, anyone can help.
Inspiration Through an Amazing Organization
During the short amount of time that I have spent here in Alpharetta, the Partners for Care team has been able to provide me with so much more then just a comfortable place to stay. I have been given knowledge and experiences that I would not be able to gain anywhere else. I have had the pleasure to be introduced to 8 fellow Buckeyes who have inspired me throughout the trip with their hardwork, determination, intelligence, and passion. I also have met the wonderful Connie Cheren, who has taught me so much in such a small amount of time. She has truly been an inspiration through her passion to help others, her caring nature, and the abundance of knowledge she has in so many different subjects. Staying in Connie’s home has been an opportunity to grow as a person and something I will never forget.
Today, I was apart of a handful of different projects. I started the day off by helping Connie organize two rooms in her house where different projects for her organization are held. One of the rooms stored an abundant amount of hand-made pieces made by the Kenyan women that included paintings, jewelry, hand painted plates, woven baskets, and even hand-made nativity sets. All these items were made for the INUA project, in which the women make every item by hand and then these items are brought back to America. These pieces of art are then sold and all profit goes back to Kenya. It was amazing to see the detail and the talent that went into each and every piece. It was all beautiful and if I could I would buy it all! I also learned I might have a future in interior design one day because I attempted to transformed the room into a little shop to displayed all the different items and surprisingly it worked out quite nicely. It’s nice to know I have a back up career if nursing doesn’t workout! (Just Joking!) I also helped my fellow volunteers with some of the projects they were working on, like data entry and the Prezi presentation for the portable solar lamps. I was super happy that I got to help because I learned so much about the way the people in Kenya live and it was an eye opening experience. I was astonished how much the portable solar lamp and the packH20 impacted the lives of the Kenyan people. These two small items completely change the way these people gather water and preform tasks at night. It makes these tasks easier and safer for the people and drastically improves their lives.
Before this week, I had no idea about how much work went into a non-profit organization. There are so many little details that I completely overlooked, like how much time goes into data entry, working with social media, or even finding a way to show your appreciation towards your donors. It truly takes a special type of person to run this type of organization and I hope to be half the person Connie is one day. Partners for Care is an amazing organization and I am so happy that I have been able to make a small mark on this organization during my time here in Georgia.
Teamwork and passion. They seem like such obvious traits that are essential to running a successful organization, however, after really getting into the nitty gritty of what PFC does, these words mean so much more. Just today, we used the morning to complete our designated tasks and the afternoon was spent with MedShare, a partner group that assists PFC in their mission. All week we have pooled together our abilities and skills to complete projects that will lighten the workload of others and allow us to leave our mark on PFC. Although I began the week helping to enter data, I slowly encroached on the ever-growing social media mountain. Sifting through the mountain could seem like a quick and easy task, but it has proven to be more challenging than any of us could have imagined. However, with the struggles and hurdles has come pinball games of ideas and deeper friendships. I have come to realize that the ten other people surrounding me are not only well-rounded people with great intelligence and creativity, but they are barrels of life experience that I am eager to tap. I find myself excited to use the knowledge and ideas of others to benefit the work I am doing for PFC, while promising myself that I will continue to use these experiences for personal growth when we return to Ohio (sorry we brought the cold with us!). The teamwork I have seen this week extends further than the simple bouncing of ideas off of one another. It has developed friendships, created connections to be used in my future as a medical professional, and humbled me from all that I have gained.
With the idea of teamwork comes the experience of working with MedShare in the afternoon. For those who are unfamiliar with MedShare (as I was at the beginning of the week), the organization collects medical equipment and supplies that would otherwise be thrown out and sends it to 96 countries all over the world. From our work today, the 9 of us were able to package 74 boxes of supplies, or 536 lbs of “medical waste.” These supplies were not defective, but instead cosmetically damaged and therefore, unable to be used in U.S. hospitals. I was shocked to realize that these materials would normally be sent to landfills and left unused. After hearing stories of how doctors in other countries are performing surgery with one hand because they do not have the resources to use two gloves during procedures, I am unable to find any reason as to why we should be throwing away such valuable products. I am grateful and inspired by MedShare, and hope that they are able to reach more hospitals and medical equipment manufacturers to partner with.
From all that I have seen and heard these few days, I have come to know that passion is essential in all that you do. I’m sure we have all been told that a life without passion is nothing, and so we try to find something that we enjoy. But I believe that Connie, Sharon and Daniel exemplify what it means to live a life of passion. They strive each day to do all that they are capable of to combat forces working against their favor. When Connie speaks to us about PFC, the people of Kenya or her partners in this journey, her eyes light up as if there is no greater happiness to be felt. I aspire to find things, and not just a career, that provide me with the same passion so that my eyes might light up similarly. As Princess, an incredible and inspiring woman of the Unithed Methodist Church, would say, find your passion, pursue it, and in the end you will have success. I hope that I will be able to use all of the wise words I have collected from this trip to create a life that I would be proud to share with others, so that they might see my happiness, and take away something to use in their own life.
Partners for Care is an organization that lives up to its name. Everything that Partners for Care accomplishes is for the sole purpose of helping others. What inspires me the most is their philosophy of helping without harming the Kenyan people. Many modern mission trips, although they mean well by their actions, damage existing communities with their aid. When a group of people come in and build a village’s schools, churches, and hospitals, it takes away from potential economic infrastructure within that country. We come home feeling good about ourselves, when in reality we leave the people in worse shape than before. True service means setting our selfish needs aside, and asking what a community needs to fight poverty, violence, or illness. Partners for Care has asked the question, and in response has developed schools, clinics, and water packs to teach valuable professional skills, treat sickness, and broaden access to safe water. Most importantly, they put Kenyans in charge of managing the process on the ground. As a result, Partners for Care is a Kenyan organization for Kenyans, not only addressing the critical issues of the day but allowing economic opportunities to manifest within Kenya for long-term development.
Personally, I have learned so much on this trip. The day-to-day affairs of a non-profit can be tedious, therefore it takes true passion and dedication to create a strategy for helping others in the long-term. They have showed me that there is no limit to what we can learn from others, and good strategies can always be made better with hardwork and teamwork. I hope one day to find my passion and spread my love and concern for others just as Sharon, Connie, and Danny have. In the meantime, I have a long list of books to read and movies to watch, per Connie’s recommendation.