Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Changing the World by Michelle Hankes

Every once in a while, if you're very, very lucky, you get to meet someone who inspires you. Perhaps you're not even looking for him. Perhaps you're looking for something else altogether, but then you hear him tell his story, and you realize that you have encountered someone special, someone who has risen above what was to create what could be so that the world is a better place. 

Early this morning I was visiting the Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief Kitchen that was serving the areas of South Carolina that had been struck by Hurricane Matthew. I was documenting the process of how meals are made and delivered to residents who had been without power for several days when I noticed a particular young man who seemed to be everywhere.   

To be clear, every disaster volunteer works tremendously hard. Some are cooking over giant stoves and ovens to fix thousands of meals.  Some are unloading or reloading trucks with supplies. Still others are driving the Emergency Response Vehicles (ERV) or planning the best feeding routes to serve the most people. They start around 4:30 in the morning and call it a day around 9 p.m. or later. 

This young man never stood still. He swept out the back of ERVs or washed windshields.  He was the first to lift crates of water into trucks. When he saw me watching him, he waved and sent me a big grin.  I couldn't help but go over to chat with him.  

(Photo: Ese Enyamuke, a Red Cross volunteer from New Jersey, tells his story to Red Crosser Michelle Hankes.) 

"What are you doing?" I asked him to break the ice. He didn't laugh at me, but it was obvious he was sweeping out the ERV. 

"I'm helping the people of South Carolina." I was impressed that this young man saw every task as part of the mission of the Red Cross to alleviate human suffering in the face of disaster. His answer revealed that he understood that to reach a goal, the little things are as important as the big. 

I asked him his name: Ese Mike Enyamuke.  I had to ask him to spell it for me, and he laughed.  "I'm not from here originally. I'm from Nigeria." 

This sounded like the beginning of an interesting story, so I asked him how it was he managed to find himself volunteering for a disaster in South Carolina, which seemed like a pretty long commute. 

"It was because of my little brother about 25 years ago," explained Ese. The child was playing in their small village in Nigeria and fell out of a tree, resulting in terrible injuries. Unfortunately, at that time in Nigeria, patients brought to the hospital were triaged by wealth rather than severity of illness.  Ese's family was poor so his little brother was pushed to the end of the line. 
He did not survive his injuries. 

"I was so angry," admitted Ese. "I believe every child should receive medical help. So my dream since that time was to be a doctor." 

Yet he could not afford to go to medical school or even nursing school.  He started to feel frustrated because he had such passion for helping others but felt blocked at every turn, until a friend with the Nigerian Red Cross offered him an opportunity: if he volunteered with the local Red Cross program, he would have access to the types of trainings that would give him the skills he was so desperate to have to make his promise to his brother's memory come true. 

Ese learned CPR. He learned First Aid. He learned how to respond to disasters of all kinds. He taught others to spread his knowledge. "I could not be the doctor at the hospital," he said. "Instead, through the Red Cross, I was the person who could be there right at the scene of the accident. I could save lives like my little brother's." 

(Photo: Ese helps his team member Jim Mollerus load the ERV with a cambro filled with bbq.)

Recently, Ese immigrated to the United States, making a new home in New Jersey.  As soon as he could, he introduced himself to the local American Red Cross chapter and asked to be of service. 

Clair Rybczynski is part of the New Jersey ERV team that includes Ese. She says sometimes she's overwhelmed by his energy. "He's so passionate about the Red Cross, he has a hard time holding still. He wants to be doing. Helping. No job is too small if it means it's part of the mission. It's such a pleasure to be able to work with him. He inspires us all." 

Ese's story is a lesson that many of us could take to heart. His brother's loss affected him greatly. The unfairness of the system that couldn't or wouldn't help an injured child certainly made him angry, but he didn't throw up his hands and give up. He found a way to make his own solution. 

"You can change the world," was Ese's parting advice to me as he prepared to head to a small community in South Carolina to feed hungry people. "You just have to focus your anger and fear and then use them to raise yourself to a higher height than the problem. I work with other Red Cross volunteers because in the spirit of one love, together we work as a team." 

(Photo : Ese serves meals to South Carolina residents who were victims of Hurricane Matthew.) 

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