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Looking for the helpers: Local community, global citizens

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Dr Sarah Maya Rosen, Assistant Principal, Ustinov College, reflects on finding hope in helping our local and global communities – and how one colleague at Ustinov College went above and beyond earlier this year to help those in need.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.

There is no doubt we are living in challenging times, times that seem to present us with few (if any) clear solutions. On the back of a pandemic, came war within Europe—and these ongoing tragedies are merely rungs on a very long, unhappy ladder that stretches back centuries. In challenging times, especially when we feel our collective hands are tied, it can be nigh impossible to find the hope. But hope is the foundation on which we build solutions.

Mister Rogers, long considered an American treasure for his work in public broadcasting, calls us to find the hope by looking for the helpers. As a juggernaut of children’s TV programming, with shows such as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred Rogers was undoubtedly speaking to the young people who witness disaster in trying times, and not to us adults. But I have found myself returning to this quote over and over again. Perhaps this is because he asked me to be his neighbour through my television screen 25 years ago; perhaps this is because he helped me through the trying times of my youth. Whatever the case, I carry this forward today to my new neighbours here at Ustinov College. ‘Look for the helpers’ is a call to action.

When our community heard that there was one such helper in our own ranks, we looked. Anna-Mae Hesletine, a deeply valued member of the Ustinov staff, has a presence one cannot miss. Many of you will know her as the gregarious face that greets you at Reception, as she has filled the Helpdesk Assistant role on a secondment since March. What many of you may not know, is that she has gone above and beyond to help those in our community in the face of an international disaster. We had the privilege to speak with her and learn her story. While Anna-Mae was watching ITV News, she learned that three Ukrainian lorry drivers were stranded in the Littleburn Industrial Estate in Langley Moor. As she lives just over the road, she sought them out and offered to help them. Two of the three men had already managed to get home, but the third, Anatoliya Chornyi, was still stranded. He didn’t speak much English, so Anna-Mae relied on Google Translate to communicate and offer him food, clean clothes, a shower, and shelter to keep warm.

Anatoliya accepted her offer and spent the evening getting to know Anna-Mae and her family over a shared meal. He told her that he has a wife, children, a cat, and a dog named Copper in Kyiv—which made Anna-Mae laugh because her dog is also named Copper! But she also recalls the pain he was in when he spoke of the family he was separated from. By the next morning, the community had come together to provide clothes, shoes, bedding, and other essentials. In time, a translator from ITV got in touch, offering the support of a charity in Darlington that could help get him to Poland. He became emotional at the thought of going home, and when they finally said their goodbyes, he shook her husband’s and her little boy’s hands.

When he returned to Kyiv on March 17th, he video called Anna-Mae and introduced her to his wife and kids. They still message each other from time to time to check in. He promises once the war is over, they will see each other again.

‘Look for the helpers’ is a call to action— but looking around us for the helpers is only half the battle. We must also look within us for the helpers. We must ask ourselves how we become the helpers who others look to in times of great adversity. Anna-Mae was nominated for a Volunteering Award at Durham University for her actions, and I hope we can all look to her example and become the helpers who bring hope to our local and global communities.

Originally written for The Ustinovian magazine



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