By Ali Khan
Flashback to August 2016, I just returned to the States after a week-long life-altering trip to Jordan with Helping Hand (An NGO that focuses on Relief and Development). Without going into too much detail, I had a unique opportunity to visit refugee camps consisting of people predominately displaced by the Palestinian and Syrian political situation. I was given a first hand, unfiltered, non-biased account of the arduous journey all these people had endured during their lifetime. Everyone has seen images and videos of people living in refugee camps; however, breathing the same air as these people gives an entirely different perspective. As we walked through one of the remote refugee camps we visited, I had a very bittersweet feeling seeing little children running around in Adidas and Polo clothing. I wondered how this clothing was able to reach these people because it was unlikely that they purchased them.
Flash forward to August 2018, I had a much better answer to the aforementioned question. Going on a trip like that really makes you question your purpose in this world. Through the course of the trip this question lingered on with me and I came to the realization that the purpose of life is to leave the world differently than when you came into it. As humans, we all bleed the same color, but how we bleed is a different story. To elaborate on my terrible analogy, I am trying to tell that we will all be tested in different ways aka “First World Problems.” For examples, having to switch from my one-bedroom apartment to a three-bedroom apartment was really difficult for me … and I can imagine someone being forced out of their home to living in a tent in the middle of the desert would share a similar feeling. To elaborate further, it should be evident that the triviality of my scenario is far greater than the latter. With this in my mind, I feel that I am held more accountable for my actions as I am now more cognizant of what a large population of the world is experiencing.
It did take some time; however, I finally managed to get involved with the Helping Hand chapter in Seattle, WA. Most recently, I helped organize an incredibly successful clothing drive for individuals in Somalia. We gathered enough clothes to fill to the brim, a 21 foot U-Haul Truck. This two-part initiative consisted of collecting clothes from six locations throughout the Puget Sound region in Washington and then further sorting/packaging them for shipment. The collection day was the most stressful for me because ultimately this day would determine whether our mission would be a success or a failure. To my surprise, we went above and beyond our expectations. Initially, we had only one person per location; however, as the day progressed more people came to help. As part of the donation, we requested that everyone donate $10 per bag to cover for shipping. It was heart-warming to see some people give way more than required just to help contribute a little more. Around 1700, there were only 5 brave souls left and then the real fun began. After picking up the donations from all the drop-off locations, we finally got to the warehouse. Let’s just say, we all got a pretty decent four-hour workout unloading approximately 450-500 bags from the U-Haul into the warehouse.
Then came August 19th, sorting/packaging day. As of 0700 that morning, we had only thirteen volunteers signed up and during the entire drive to the warehouse I was thinking to myself, “there is no way we are going to finish in one day.” This day was definitely blessed because four hours after arriving to the warehouse, we had about twenty-five driven volunteers, ranging from every age group, lending a helping hand (no pun intended). To ensure that I wouldn’t be sued for running a sweatshop, I made incremental announcements stating that “This is not a sweatshop – you are allowed breaks at any time.” Despite my announcements, all the volunteers continued to work diligently to accomplish the end goal. As the day progressed, myself and another individual made numerous runs to Target to get supplies. The level of maturity and leadership exhibited by the volunteers gave me the confidence that I could leave and know that everything would still remain in check. Everyone knew their duty and worked methodically to get it done in the most efficient way possible.
It became slightly evident throughout the day that people were simply “disposing” their old clothes rather than having the intention of giving it for the greater cause. A fair amount of the donations were dirty and ripped– I don’t mean to judge anyone, but seriously, come on? There is a saying, “give to others, what you would give to yourself,” which based on the donations didn’t resonate with everyone. On a more positive note, what gave me the most happiness was seeing clothing that looked brand new. I was told that many if not all the families who live in refugee camps rely solely on donations for their clothing needs. Even though we didn’t need these clothes anymore, to the people receiving it – these clothes are a brand new wardrobe!
Around 1500, we managed to pack and sort 372 boxes of clothing for men, women, boys, girls, and toddlers along with boxes for bedding and shoes. At the end of all of this, I knew everyone wanted to go home, but I wanted to share with them the impact of the work they had done. It was a very emotional moment for me seeing the 7 pallets holding numerous shrink-wrapped boxes. Only myself along with one other volunteer had been overseas with this organization. We recollected on our experiences and how these clothes will help those in need. It’s hard to verbalize, but I can tell you that these donations are the barrier for a child from getting sunburn or preventing a child from freezing to death because of the cold. Knowing that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle t-shirt I packed in the box would bring a smile to a little boy’s face really sent a shiver down my body.
Although to us the clothes may be old and useless, to the recipient they are new and life-changing. This whole experience continued to show me to make a difference in the lives of others you really can do anything and it will snowball into something amazing. On the collection day, there were some people who donated a single grocery bag and then there were some who donated 10 large garbage bags. No matter the size of the donation, I was rest-assured that it would make a world of a difference to person receiving it. Many people believe that in order to help the greater good they must go internationally and partake in some humanitarian trip. This is not the case; however, I do believe that one point in every person’s life they should be exposed to this level of poverty just to obtain some unfiltered exposure. There is so much that can be done on a local level to help people abroad – whether it be participating in a clothing drive or forwarding a link to an upcoming fundraiser, there is always a way you can help contribute!
After taping shut each box, I knew that I was not only packings clothes, but also packing happiness.