Look for the helpers in times of crisis

Photo by Wikicommons

A statue memorializing Nicholas Winton, who's actions saved many lives during the holocaust.

Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers and PBS fame, had important things to say about helpers.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘look for the helpers,” he said. “You will always find people who are helping.”

In Canada, we know it better than most.

Who hasn’t had someone push them out of the snow when their tires are stuck in inches of the white stuff?

And better yet, who hasn’t reached out to help a complete stranger when it comes to getting them unstuck.

Canada — and the world over — are filled with helpers. And now, when things are roughest, it’s important to look to them for inspiration and hope in our time of crisis.

It’s harder with the conditions currently placed on us. Isolation is one of humanities greatest weaknesses.

We’re social beings. We like to be around those whose company we enjoy and we hate to be alone.

But no matter how isolated, we are never alone.

I believe in the power of the written word. I believe in it so strongly I made it my life’s work.

When you read this article, you’re not reading it alone.

You are reading this at the same time as over 50,000 others. So you’re not alone. You’re never alone. We are all blessed with the ability to listen to others. And I want to listen as well.

I want to hear your stories of when you’ve been helped or you’ve helped others. In next month’s issue, I’ll compile as many as I can to print in the Kerby News. I’ll show that beyond any reasonable doubt, people are willing to stand up and do what’s right when it’s really needed. My email address is andrewm@kerbycentre.com

Things may get harder before they get better, but they will get better. They always have.

Let everyone who faces these hard times come out of it unscathed, with only stories of how they were helped or how they helped others.

Those stories will preserve us and keep us strong the next time the embers of crisis burn.

But until then, we have countless stories across history that will inspire us, that will keep us warm and that will steel us against a seemingly ever-growing tide of anxiety and helplessness.

These are a selection of some of my favourite “helpers” across the breadth of human civilization. If at any time you feel yourself despair, think back to these brave folks who did what needed to be done, when it needed to be done.

Open your hearts and minds to the inspiration to be found and you may surprise yourself with what strength and bravery you might find within yourself.

Nicholas Winton
Nicholas Winton was a mild-mannered British humanitarian who’s name might not be as well-known as someone like Oscar Schindler, but who’s actions saved hundreds of lives over the course of World War Two.

Born in May 1909 in London to Jewish Parents, he worked as a banker for most of his adult life.

He established an organization to rescue Jewish children whose families were at risk due to Nazi-dominated Germany. He set up an office at a dining room table in his hotel in Prague at the end of 1938. There were difficult obstacles, both of cost and bureaucracy of the governments at the time. Border guards were searching for refugees and would return any found back to Germany, despite the horrors of what was happening to Jewish individuals already being well-known.

Ultimately, Winton would relocate and save 669 children, finding them homes in Britain. Many of their parents would ultimately go on to perish in concentration camps.

Winton’s efforts would go unnoticed for over half a century, but the wider world would find out about his work in February of 1988 during an episode of a BBC television programme Winton was invited on as a member of the audience.

During the programme, Winton’s scrapbook was shown off and his many achievements were explained to the audience. The host of the programme stopped near the end and asked if anyone in the audience owed their lives to Nicholas Winton.

This was when Winton was surprised as over two dozen people on all sides of him stood up. The rest of the audience was comprised of the children he had saved, now adults, as Winton finally got to see the fruits of his efforts and hard work those decades ago: adults, men and women now with children of their own, who had the chance at freedom, at life and to grow old themselves, all because he refused to back down in the face of indifference and struggle.

Winton responded by dabbing a single tear from his eye.

Winton died peacefully in his sleep on July 1, 2015, at the age of 106. It was 76 years, to the day, after 241 of the children he had saved had left Prague for their new, peaceful lives in Britain.

Viola Desmond
If the name of Viola Desmond isn’t familiar, her image definitely is.

Her face is on the newest $10 Canadian bill and her story is one of resilience.

She was a hair salon owner, who in November 1946, decided to take in a movie at the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.

Desmond, unaware that this theatre had a segregation policy, took a seat on the main floor. She refused to move to the balcony where other black patrons were expected to sit. In response to her refusal, she was dragged out of the theatre, arrested and spent a night in jail.

She was charged with tax evasion, as she had failed to pay the full tax on a main-floor movie ticket. The difference between the two was a total of a single cent.

For others, the story may have ended there, but Desmond refused to give up.

She took her case all the way up to the province’s Supreme Court.

She appealed her conviction. Ultimately, however, she lost. But her stand against the injustices facing the black community in the province kick started a civil rights movement in Canada.

Her legacy would continue on for decades to come. The rightness of her actions were recognized in 2010 when the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia posthumously pardoned her, removing the conviction from the historical record.

Although Desmond would pass away in 1965, her sister Wanda still lives in Nova Scotia and continued to be inspired by her sibling’s story.

At age 73, she went back to school and finished a bachelor of arts degree. Wanda now speaks to youth about combating racism in all its forms, even today.

Malala Yousafzai
The youngest on our list, Malala Yousafzai is a teenage hero.

She was born on July 12, 1997 in Pakistan to parents who were determined to give her every opportunity.

Her father was a teacher and ran a school for girls in their village. However, when the Taliban took over their place of living, they banned numerous things, including television or playing music. They also said girls could no longer attend school.

In January 2008, when Malala was just 11 years old, she bid her farewell to her classmates not knowing if she’d see them again.

She continued to campaign for her own education and the education of others like her, however. She spoke out publically on behalf of girls and their right to an education. This made her a target of extremists.

In October of 2012, on her way home, a gunman wearing a masked boarded the bus Malala was on. He asked, “Who is Malala? Speak up, otherwise I will shoot you all.”

Malala identified herself and was shot in the head.

However, she made a miraculous recovery. She awoke in the latter half of October in the U.K. after being treated by Pakistani and British doctors.

It was then, Malala said, she knew she had a choice: she could life a quiet life of safety in her new home or she could press forward.

She was determined to continue her fight and with the help of her father, established the Malala fund: a charity dedicated to giving opportunities and education to young girls. In December of 2014, Malala was the youngest ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She has continued her work and is now studying philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University.

She continues to travel across the world to meet others where she was: young women fighting discrimination, poverty and war, with the aim of making sure their stories are told and to create a world where education is an equal opportunity.

James Harrison

James Harrison has been called “The Man with the Golden Arm.”

He’s not a baseball player, however. Nor does he play any sport. His arm is unique and his sacrifices special in a different way.

When he was 14 in his home country of Australia, Harrison got sick. One of his lungs needed to be removed and he needed a lot of blood.

After received almost two gallons of donated blood, Harrison said that he’d never forget others generosity and vowed to give back.

Harrison began giving blood and plasma regularly, more so than most: every three weeks for 11 years.

At the same time, many doctors were having issues with a condition known as Rh incompatibility. It’s potentially lethal and occurs when a pregnant woman has an Rh-negative blood type and her child is Rh-positive.

Doctors needed some method to fix this condition, and in Harrison’s blood, they found it: an extremely rare antibody known as Rh immune globulin, also known as “anti-D.”

Harrison became the first Anti-D donor in Australia and gave blood for over 60 years.

It was estimated that he donated enough blood to save over two million babies, including his own grandson, Scott.

By 78, Harrison donated a whopping 1,106 times, and continued to donate until he hung up his golden arm at 81.