Good People Doing Good Things — National Park Volunteers

As a result of the Trump government shutdown, some 800,000+ federal employees are either furloughed from their jobs, else are asked to continue working without immediate compensation and with only the hope of back pay at some elusive date in the future.  Among those who are on furlough are the employees of the national parks around the nation.Trash-overflowing.jpgWith nobody to empty trash, clean restrooms, move debris from public areas, the parks were, after nearly three weeks untended, falling into a state of disrepair.  But last week, some good people took notice.  Let me introduce you to just a few …


Mike Skelton is the owner of Yellowstone Wonders, a company that offers tours of Yellowstone National Park.  Last week, with the holidays in the rearview mirror, Mike noticed a serious buildup of trash in the park.yellowstone-4

“We all live here. When it gets down to it, it is our park and it belongs to all of us in this country.”

Yellowstone-3.jpgAnd with that, he gathered a few other local residents and got to work.  They brushed snow off entrances, cleaned toilets, replaced toilet paper and switched out garbage bags, and they’ll likely do it again most weekends, if the shutdown continues.  The first day, Saturday, Mr. Skelton was joined by about 15 volunteers, but the next day, Sunday, there were 40!  Some volunteers brought supplies from home or bought them along the way.yellowstone-2In addition to individuals lending a hand, dozens of small businesses located in proximity to Yellowstone National Park have all chipped in thousands of dollars to keep the park open and tidy during the winter tourist season … they even offer free pizza to the volunteers!


gsm-signIn Tennessee, Marc Newland and his 10-year-old daughter Erica have spent their days in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hiking the mountain trails with trash bags in hand so they can pick up litter along the way. gsm-3The Newlands have always been avid hikers, but when Marc told his daughter about how the shutdown would affect the mountain park, she suggested that they take it upon themselves to keep the trails tidy.

“Erica says that she would like to challenge other hikers to take one day off from getting in miles and impressive vista pics and instead, give back by grabbing a trash bag, heading to the park and collecting some litter!! These mountains give so much to so many people. Imagine if only a fraction of those people decided to give back to the mountains.”


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Ever hear of Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association (AMYA)?  It is a Maryland-based organization that regularly organizes community service cleaning efforts across the country, and presently they are mobilizing to clean up in Joshua Tree National Park, Everglades National Park, the National Mall, and Independence Hall in Philadelphia and Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio.

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Joshua Tree National Park – California

At least 70 members of the group emptied overflowing trash cans, picked up piles of litter and swept the streets over the weekend.  Young.  Muslim.  Men.  The ones who so many call terrorists … are picking up trash in order to keep our national parks clean.  Think about that one for a minute, if you will.


These are but a few of the groups and individuals who are stepping up to the plate during the Trump shutdown to help keep things running smoothly.  Unfortunately, due to a weekend incident where park visitors damaged trees while driving off-road, Joshua Tree National Park is now closed to visitors.  Had park rangers been on the job, the incident likely would not have happened.

Nonetheless, there are thousands of people out there volunteering to pick up the slack left by the Trump shutdown, and I, for one, am grateful to them.  The parks belong to us all, and we should offer kudos to these fine volunteers for helping to take care of the parks so that we can continue to enjoy them.  Thank you ALL!!!

Good People Doing Good Things — Choose Love (and others)

t-shirt-2Perhaps my favourite Christmas gift this year was from my daughter to Miss Goose and I together.  When we first opened it, we were a bit puzzled, for there was a white t-shirt with the words “Choose Love” on it in black lettering, and a piece of paper that appeared to be an invoice for:

Hot Food x2 $8.00
Sleeping Bag x1 $26.00
Waterproof Tent x1 $26.00
Snug Pack x1 $10.00
Arrival Bundle x1 $30.00
Total   $100.00

My first reaction was, “You bought us a tent?  You want us to move out?”  But as she explained, as I understood what my wonderful daughter had done, tears came.  She donated this money in mine and Natasha’s names, to be spent on the above items for a refugee in need.  My daughter has a heart of pure gold.

So this evening, as I pondered my ‘good people’ post, I thought to do a bit of research into ‘Choose Love’.  From their website …

Choose Love. It’s a simple, but powerful message.

At a time when the world faces many challenges; when rhetoric of hate and division has found itself centre stage; we believe sharing this simple message has never been more vital.

We all have a choice. To be motivated by fear and animosity, to build walls and turn our backs on the world. Or to nurture the hopeful; to recognise our common future. To chooselove. The world can feel broken, but everywhere these cracks are letting in light.

We’re under no illusions. We know we face some huge challenges. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned as charity, and as a community, it’s that we can all play a part in creating the world we want to see. And choosing love seems like a pretty good place to start.

Choose Love, the world’s first store where you can buy real gifts for refugees, contains practical items like tents, nappies and sleeping bags. But instead of taking them home, each purchase buys a similar item for someone who truly needs it.

In 2017, this new model of charitable giving raised nearly £1 million, it got the message out to over 200 million people, and it engaged celebrities, influencers and the public with a really positive message.

We believe funds should go straight to where they are needed most. So we make sure 100% of donations from the store go straight to supporting front line services.

Last year, the sale of life jackets from the Choose Love store raised £38,594, which enabled Refugee Rescue to assist 1,399 people braving the treacherous sea crossing from Turkey.

But Choose Love is only one part of the picture, for they are in partnership with another organization, Help Refugees, that goes even further.  Help Refugees is ranked one of the most efficient charities helping refugees with a myriad of things.  A bit about them …

Ordinary people doing extraordinary things

Help Refugees started as nothing more than a hashtag in August 2015. A group of friends wanted to raise $1,500 and fill a van full of donations to take down to Calais. Within a week, we had raised $86,000. We were soon receiving 7,000 items every day.

Fast forward three years, and we have helped over 722,500 people, managed over 25,000 volunteers, and we support more 80 projects across Europe and the Middle East. We have established a fieldwork first, networked approach to giving aid, establishing local networks and working with local partners to deliver projects.

Boosted by the support of high-profile musicians, filmmakers and actors who joined our ‘Choose Love’ campaign, we believe that together with our partners, volunteers, fundraisers, and supporters we have pioneered a new movement in humanitarian response – ordinary people to help other ordinary people in need in the most direct of ways.

We help where the need is greatest. Flexible and fast in our response to the genuine needs of refugees, we fill gaps and act where big NGOs and governments don’t.

94% of your donations go directly towards supporting refugees across Europe and the Middle East.

– We are among the most efficient refugee charities in Europe
– We’ve had thousands of volunteers
– We’re funded by people like you
– We don’t have any highly paid executives
– We provide vital aid to people fleeing war, persecution and poverty

Help refugees impact reportI checked out both Help Refugees and Choose Love, both are legitimate and rely almost exclusively on volunteers and donations.  So today, I honour many good people whose names I do not know, but whose accomplishments deserve kudos.  The 25,000+ volunteers, those who came up with the ideas for these two charities, and the thousands of people who have helped, either by giving donations or buying items for refugees.  And one more good person I would like to honour today … daughter Chris for having such a wonderful heart and for caring about people.

You can learn more about these two organizations from their websites, Choose Love and Help Refugees.

Good People Doing Good Things — The Rescue

Today’s ‘good people’ post is a little different that most, for I do not know, with a couple of exceptions, the names of the good people, nor do I have pictures of them or know anything about them … only that they are good people.  The story is one we are all familiar with, one that kept us on the edges of our seats from June 23rd until July 10th. It is the story of a Thai boys’ soccer team, the Wild Boars, and 12 members of that team and their coach, who were trapped in a flooded cave for more than two weeks.  The good people are the divers, Seals and other rescuers, of course, but also the volunteers.  Volunteers came from Finland, Britain, China, Spain, Australia and the United States.

Not much is known about the many people who spent days helping in one way or another, but one woman’s story was told and I want to share it with you.

Her name is Mae Bua Chaicheun and she is a small-scale rice farmer, owning about 5 acres of land in a small village near the mountain where the boys’ soccer team was trapped in the cave.  When news broke that an entire soccer team was trapped in a cave, Chaicheun dropped everything and headed to the mountainside to help.  Chaicheun spent a week at the cave, cooking meals for the rescue workers and pitching in wherever she was needed.  But when she returned home, she found her rice fields in ruin.  The water that was being continuously pumped out from the cave during the rescue mission, along with heavy rains, had flooded the area and her rice crop was gone. Mae Bua ChaicheunBut Ms. Chaicheun is not complaining.  “When I got home the water was two feet deep, and the young plants were flooded. Children are more important than rice. We can regrow rice but we can’t regrow the children. I feel people have shown more love towards each other. There’s such a strong community spirit, people all wanting to help each other.”  What a beautiful attitude – a beautiful woman, yes?  An addendum:  the Thai king has pledged to purchase all the ruined rice crops from Ms. Chaicheun and others whose crops fell victim to the pumped waters.

Rescue mission chief Narongsak Osottanakorn is calling Saman Guana, the former Navy SEAL who died during the rescue, the hero of the mission.  Petty Officer Saman had completed an operation to deliver air tanks and was swimming from chamber four to chamber three, the main operating base for the SEALs and divers within the complex, when he lost consciousness.Saman Guana.jpgA dive buddy tried to administer first aid in the water and then got Petty Officer Saman through to chamber three, where further attempts were made to revive him but it was too late. His body was then taken to a local hospital and the Thai king said that he would have a funeral with full honours.

When rescuers began pumping water from the cave, it quickly became obvious that they needed more pumps.  The call for pumps went out and pumps began arriving from all over the country.  One man, Worawut Imchit drove overnight from a shrimp farm 850 miles to the south, bringing four flatbed trucks carrying four of the massive pumps that circulate water through the ponds.  He then spent the next three days and nights helping to oversee the pumping operation.

“It was three sleepless days for me. I ran like a crazy man, up and down, back and forth between the pumps to make sure everything was functioning normally.”

Asaf Zmirly, an Israeli living in Bangkok, arrived with radios flown in from Israel that could operate within the cave, adjusting to the topography and creating a daisy-chain-like network.

Ruengrit Changkwanyuen, a Thai regional manager for General Motors, was among the first volunteer cave divers to show up at the scene.

Danish volunteer diver Ivan Karadzic, who owns a diving school in Koh Tao, Thailand, came and brought every piece of equipment he owned, saying he was prepared to stay for as long as it took to rescue the boys.

Dr Richard HarrisAnd then there was Dr. Richard Harris, an Australian doctor who was on holiday in Thailand when he heard the news and cut short his vacation.  He initially went into the cave to assess the boys’ health, and ended up staying until all 12 boys and their coach had been rescued.  Because he had cave-diving experience, Dr. Harris, known as Harry to the boys in the cave, was specifically requested by the “highest levels” of the Thai government to join the rescue. He and three Thai Navy Seal divers were the last four to emerge from the cave.  On a sad note, Dr. Harris found out on the day after the successful rescue mission that his own father had died.

Dr Harris and four Seal divers

Dr. Harris and 3 Thai Navy Seal divers

International rescuers included US air force rescue specialists, and cave divers from the UK, Belgium, Australia, Scandinavia, and many other countries. Some had volunteered, and some were called in by Thai authorities.  Overall some 10,000 people participated, including 2,000 soldiers, 200 divers and representatives from 100 government agencies. And rescue volunteers, like Mae Bua Chaicheun, poured in from all over.  They cooked for the rescue teams, helped man the pumps, cleaned toilets, drove rescuers up and down the mountain, and took the rescuers muddy clothes to a local laundromat every night.

We know the names of only the few, but each and every person who gave of themselves, their time, equipment, expertise, or other resources to rescue these boys and their coach are good people in my book, and the world owes them a heartfelt “Thank You”.

soccer team just before cave

The Wild Boars, minutes before entering the cave

Good People Doing Good Things – Doctors Without Borders

“We deal with a lot of death — a lot of death — much more than we’re used to seeing at home by far.”

Sometimes I view the posts I write as an opportunity for me to learn something new.  Even when I don’t think of them in those terms, I almost always learn from my research.  It came to me last week that I knew only a little about a large group of people who are doing good things all over the world, and I would like to learn more, and at the same time honour them in my Wednesday “Good People Doing Good Things” post.  Today, I am pleased to write about a group that is maybe doing the hardest, yet some of the most humanitarian work around the globe:  Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders.

 

doctors-msf-logoMy first question was “how did Doctors Without Borders get its start?”  Rather interestingly, it was a combination of politics and the Civil War in Biafra in the late 1960s that led to its formation.  A group of French doctors working with the International Red Cross (IRC) in Biafra were frustrated because by the policies of the IRC they were not allowed to speak of the political atrocities they saw in the region.  Meanwhile, a group of French journalists, trying to bring attention to victims of natural disasters in spots like Iran and Bangladesh, became frustrated that doctors were unwilling to help out the victims of these catastrophes.  The two groups with similar frustrations came together and in 1971, joined forces to form Médecins Sans Frontières. Today, MSF has about 30,000 people working in its organization to provide medical aid in over 70 countries.

Who are these men and women who give their time to such a noble cause?  Doctors, of course, but also nurses, midwives, and other medical professionals, logistical experts, water and sanitation engineers and administrators. They provide medical care irrespective of race, religion, creed or political affiliation. Their charter emphasizes “independence and impartiality”, and explicitly precludes political, economic, or religious factors in its decision making. For these reasons, it limits the amount of funding received from governments or intergovernmental organizations, which allows them to speak freely with respect to acts of war, corruption, or other hindrances to medical care or human well-being. 90% of Doctors Without Borders’ funding is private, coming from a loyal base of five million donors. That gives it the independence to speak out and do what’s really needed, not just what’s best for raising money.

In another example of standing behind their principles last October, Doctors Without Borders refused an offer by pharma giant Pfizer to provide one million vaccine doses against a deadly form of pneumonia.  Their reason?  The fact that Pfizer has overcharged dramatically for the drug, making a profit of $6.245 billion in 2015 from just that one vaccine!  MSF took a stand against the greed of Pfizer that made the vaccine off-limits to the people and countries that could not afford their harshly inflated prices.

  • In 1999, MSF deservingly won the Nobel Peace Prize “in recognition of the organization’s pioneering humanitarian work on several continents”. 
  • In 2007, MSF increased its presence in Mogadishu in different locations and opened an emergency response program in Afgooye, just outside the capital, where an estimated 200,000 internally displaced persons sought refuge, living in extremely harsh conditions with little access to food, water, and shelter. Many of those remaining in Mogadishu were staying in makeshift camps with little more than ripped cloth and plastic sheeting for shelter and were exposed to a high degree of violence.
  • The group also set up equipment to produce clean drinking water for the population of San Salvador, capital of El Salvador, after a 10 October 1986 earthquake that struck the city. In 2014, the European Speedster Assembly had contributed $717,000 to MSF.
  • In December 1979, after the Soviet army had invaded Afghanistan, field missions were immediately set up to provide medical aid to the mujahideen, and in February 1980, MSF publicly denounced the Khmer Rouge. During the 1984 – 1985 famine in Ethiopia, MSF set up nutrition programmes in the country in 1984, but was expelled in 1985 after denouncing the abuse of international aid and the forced resettlements.

The work they do is not without danger, In addition to injuries and death associated with stray bullets, mines and epidemic disease, MSF volunteers are sometimes attacked or kidnapped for political reasons. In some countries afflicted by civil war, humanitarian-aid organizations are viewed as helping the enemy. If an aid mission is perceived to be exclusively set up for victims on one side of the conflict, it may come under attack for that reason.

  • On 3 October 2015, 14 staff and 28 others died when an MSF hospital was bombed by American forces during the Battle of Kunduz.
  • On 27 October 2015, an MSF hospital in Sa’dah, Yemen was bombed by the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition.
  • On 28 November 2015, an MSF-supported hospital was barrel-bombed by a Syrian Air Force helicopter, killing seven and wounding forty-seven people near Homs, Syria.
  • On 10 January 2016, an MSF-supported hospital in Sa’dah was bombed by the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition, killing six people.
  • On 15 February 2016, two MSF-supported hospitals in Idlib District and Aleppo, Syria were bombed, killing at least 20 and injuring dozens of patients and medical personnel. Both Russia and the United States denied responsibility and being in the area at the time.
  • On 28 April 2016, an MSF hospital in Aleppo was bombed, killing 50, including six staff and patients.

And then there is the risk of disease.  In 2014, an Ebola crisis broke out in West Africa.  Along with Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO), Doctors Without Borders were there, and stayed through 2016.  Below you will find a link to the Story of Salome, a young woman treated for Ebola by Doctors Without Borders, then working with them after her recovery.  During the Ebola outbreak, 16 of the MSF’s staff contracted Ebola, nine of whom ultimately died from the disease.

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And yet these doctors, nurses and others keep coming back. Why do they do it?  The money? While many staff are volunteers, the doctors do receive a modest salary of approximately $1,900 per month, or about $4 per hour, given that they often work 16-hour days, seven days a week.  Working conditions?

“To do this job well, you’ll need to get used to dealing with difficult situations. Many of the patients you see won’t make it. When it isn’t from an epidemic or a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis, it’ll be from the ravages of war. And any of those things could do you in just as easily.

You’ll also have to be cool with going to the bathroom in a hole in the ground and not seeing your friends or family for almost a year. You’ll be on call 24/7. Sleep will be in short supply. You’ll see horrible things that’ll make you want to hurl, but luckily, you won’t have much in your belly to give up anyway.”

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Just a few of the faces of Good People Doing Good Things for MSF

And many of the areas are in some of the worst climates in the world.  Take, for example, the MSF hospital compound in Bentiu, South Sudan where in the rainy season, the camp turns into a giant mud pit. In the dry season, the temperature hits 115 degrees and it becomes an expanse of dust.

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This is why they do it!!!

So again, why do they do it?  For some people, there’s an overriding need, a driving force, to do the most good they can in the world. For some, the upside comes from knowing you’ve directly helped to save the lives of countless people. I am sure there are other reasons as well, but I can only say, whatever the reason, I admire each and every one of these people.  And hats off to those who donate to this cause … it is certainly money much better spent than donating to politicians!

“Now I can’t imagine going back to work in Amsterdam to an academic hospital. I feel happy being here. It’s hard work. It has really high highs and deep lows, but I’m happy to be here.” – Dr. Jiske Steensma, serving with Doctors Without Borders at the United Nations Protection of Civilians Site Bentiu, the largest refugee camp in South Sudan.

doctors-Time-magIt is a tough program to get into.  Thousands of eager, hopeful docs apply to MSF every year, but only a select few are chosen, mainly because this is an incredibly demanding job and very few have the skills, temperament, and overall ability to handle it. Although some make a career of it, moving from mission to mission; in other words, be homeless—or, permanently displaced — with a medical degree, most sign on for a shorter term, four months or so, and do it every year or two.

There are so many wonderful, heartwarming/heartbreaking stories out there and I cannot possibly cover them all in this post.  But here are links to a couple that I think will give you insight into the people who risk their lives and give of themselves to help others:

Five Days and Five Nights with Doctors Without Borders  – I highly recommend this one! It is touching, but oh so heartwarming!

Story of Salome – Warning … this one does not have a happy ending, but is still a worthy read.

And of course, there is the Doctors Without Borders website, a plethora of interesting information

There is also a documentary that I hear is excellent, although I have not watched it yet.  It is available to watch free of charge if you are an Amazon Prime member (I am), or you can buy the DVD for $17.16.  The title is Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders.

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Christopher Dickey, international reporter and foreign editor for The Daily Beast, sums it up best: “You will show the world what is happening, you will touch the conscience of the world and thereby try to make things better for people who otherwise would be utterly forgotten.”