20 Minutes that Changed My Life
by Brian Paul
I was about 11 years old when I was exposed to the concept of charity. A life-changing injury ended my father’s physically demanding career and left my mother to provide for our family for the next several years. It was extremely difficult for her to make ends meet while taking care of my dad, my two sisters and me.
The local church stepped in to help us with food, personal-care items and clothing. I remember the overwhelming excitement each month when my mom would open the trunk of the car and unload large cans of meat, vegetables and boxes of macaroni and cheese. Oh how I loved that macaroni and cheese! I am not exaggerating when I say it felt like Christmas.
The food was great, but the clothes, well, not so great. I was in sixth or seventh grade and styles and brands were becoming very important. These clothes were so out of style, so uncool and just plain unacceptable to me. I complained a lot. I even remember hiding my no-name shoes in the bushes on the way to school and wearing a friend’s worn-out pair of Nikes the rest of the day. Looking back, I regret wasting so much time worrying about what didn’t matter. I had food and I was warm.
So, why did it take almost 25 years for me to appreciate what I had back then?
In 2007, while working as a video producer for USANA Studios, I was introduced to the Children’s Hunger Fund, USANA’s charitable partner. After only two years of being with USANA I was offered the opportunity to travel with them and a small group of Associates to document their service in Uganda, Africa. I was like, “Africa?! I’m in!” All I envisioned was Tarzan, The Jungle Book and animals I’ve only seen in storybooks. I was not prepared at all to see the mass poverty and malnutrition that awaited me.
And there it was. It only took a few short miles from the airport for me to understand I was not going to be living out a childhood movie. It was an incredible shock to my system. Yes, I’ve seen images on television about people living in these conditions, but until that moment it wasn’t real.
But let’s get to that 20 minutes I’ve been leading you to.
I believe it was our third day and we were, yet again, driving around for what felt like hours on an unpaved road that tossed our ill-equipped vehicle from side to side as the driver navigated the huge dips and ruts toward our destination. We finally arrived, loaded up our weary Associates’ arms with food boxes and headed out to deliver meals to some very hungry families. It was both physically and mentally exhausting for everyone, but so worth the effort as each family we delivered this precious food to greeted us with tears of joy. Most of these families consisted of women who banded together to raise dozens of children abandoned by frightened mothers and immature fathers who were not ready for the responsibility of a child.
After spending about two hours delivering these food packs from house to house I decided to take a break from my filming and explore a little bit. A few yards up the road I found a small child that must have been less than a year old. The scene halted me in my tracks. I was stunned to find this little child just sitting in a small purple pale filled with the filthiest water I have ever seen. Flies were relentless — landing and crawling all over his little body. I imagined he was being given a bath, but there was absolutely nobody around. All I could think was, “Where is this boy’s mother?!” He looked deeply at me with his big brown eyes. As a true photographer I took my shot. Then one more. Then I stopped. I could have spent hours photographing this boy, but I didn’t want to. I just watched him. I looked down at my watch and started timing how long it would take before someone would tend to him. It was five, 10, then 15 minutes. It seemed excruciatingly long. I looked around for anyone. I was getting angry.
Twenty minutes passed when I was interrupted by our group. It was time to go, but what was I supposed to do? I didn’t want to just leave him, but I was overwhelmed with a feeling of hopelessness. There was sure to be thousands upon thousands of little children just like this one who would not be provided the luxury of the attention they deserved. He was not ripping into a delicious box of macaroni and cheese that day. He was not going to be dressed in clean and comfortable clothes. And he was not going home with us. It was so disturbing and sad.
I really didn’t know how to process all of this at the time, but it stuck with me. Little did I know that this experience would guide me to where I am now, dedicating the rest of my time working with the USANA True Health Foundation.
I love and will always cherish this experience. I love what it did to soften my heart and help me realize more clearly the blessings I have enjoyed in my life — the much needed food and the out-of-style clothes that I was so blessed to wear. I pray often for this little boy who I have named affectionately, “Baby in the Bucket.” I will use this memory to battle through the many obstacles that will surely get in my way of doing good in the world.
Remember, 100 percent of all donations made to the USANA True Health Foundation ALWAYS go toward changing lives across the world.