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Monthly Archives: April 2010

At 6 a.m. I dress, take a shower, eat breakfast and board the 100 North Yellow bus. It’s like any regular school day, except it’s Saturday. Where was I going… I was going to the old Hobby Lobby to volunteer for Million Meals for Haiti the biggest volunteer event in all of Champaign history.

Million Meals was part of the yearly Day of interfaith youth service, in which groups from different faiths work together to benefit the community. This year marked my third day of service.

The salvation army jumped at the opportunity to fund the event, while Kansas based food distributor, Numana provided the food. The meals, according to Numana, include rice, soy and dried vegetables and are fortified with vitamins and flavoring.

Interfaith in action, which organized the Day of intefaith youth service, estimated that they needed 8,000 volunteers to reach their goal of a million meals.

Several businesses, university groups, religious organizations, and individuals spread the word either orally or through fliers for he event. Uni’s Life Club joined in on the action.

“Kelly Beryl (Erin’s mom) sent an email out to LIFE Club asking if we would be interested in doing this, and we all thought it was a good idea, so LIFE Club members that were available went out and signed up for different shifts. We also decided that we would donate the club’s money from pizza sales to Salvation Army since they’re also a Christian-based organization,” said junior and president of Life Club, Nancy Tang.

With all the publicity, by the time I had arrived at eight a.m., the Hobby Lobby was teaming with life. At the entrance, everyone waited in line for five to ten minutes to enter the building, after which a red shirted volunteer would hand out a salvation army wristband. We would go through another line to wash our hands, after which everyone would form groups of twelve led by another red shirt. A red shirt is a special volunteer who works a four hour shift as opposed to the two hour ship most volunteers worked.

One by one, we moved to a table in groups of twelve, after which everyone donned gloves, a hair net, and an apron. Each person was assigned a specialized role at their table, and the packaging worked as an assembly line.

First, a volunteer placed a Numana bag under a funnel. A waiting volunteer then placed rice into that funnel, while other volunteers inserted seasoning, beans, and vegetables. Two volunteers worked to either add or take away some rice to keep the bags at a constant weight, after which two volunteers would seal the plastic bags. Ultimately, I worked as a bag flattener, while two other volunteers boxed the meals for shipping.

The boxes needed a lot of tape to prevent ripping while being air dropped by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne. Each box contained 44 six serving bags. Each of the approximately 45 tables in the first shift was able to pump out around 10 boxes, amounting to over 120,000 packed meals.

The first early morning shift was unbelievably successful. By the end of Saturday, 880,000 meals were prepared. The event was well organized that only the first Sunday shift remained. By 2:30 p.m. the volunteers had accomplished the goal of one million meals for Haiti.

In retrospect, I felt that this volunteer event was the most useful cause I’ve worked for. Due to the great coordination of the event, I participated in the preparation of almost 2000 meals that will nourish Haitians in need.

I learned that a creative high goal that a small organization strives for can reach an epic scale volunteer effort.

But the most important thing for Haiti in the long run is for it to get back on its heels. This will require more creative volunteer efforts, education, and investment on everyone’s behalf. So my message to you is simple: brainstorm, focus upon a goal, then work to achieve it.


Photo by OakleyOriginals(click to enlarge) This is a locust.

Ever since the early 1900s, locust outbreaks throughout Australia have grown in intensity and frequency. At times there were huge outbreaks costing many millions of dollars worth of damage, but there was always a background consistent population of locusts just waiting to devastate any given piece of farmland.

Even earlier this year, a locust outbreak covered 190000 square miles, which is almost the size of Spain. It affected parts of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. So this problem was quite significant.

So how are Australians dealing with it. Some may try to run over locusts with their cars, while others might even try hitting locusts with a cricket bat. But the most efficient way, in my opinion, is to harvest and eat them.

Locusts are composed of mainly protein, 62 percent protein, and they are the only type of insect that I as a Muslim am allowed to eat. You could cook it in many ways: stir fry, roasted or boiled.

But the most ingenious way, as one cafe in Victoria State Australia put it, was to add them as a topping on pizza. Mayor Glenn Milne of Mildura, Victoria started the idea by trapping locusts in a garbage bag and then adding them to pizza.

As simple an idea as it is, I’ve never heard of anyone else adding these little buggers on pizza. I mean I’ve heard of the inadvertent insect pizza or even the zophobas worms pizza, but even when I do research on locust pizza, I can’t find any sources.

But whether on pizza or just regular food, capitalizing on locust outbreaks may be a new Australian agricultural industry. Bon appetit!

Photos by Muhammed Odeh (click to enlarge) This shows a basic paintball gun, with the yellow team’s flag tied to the paintball carrier.

This picture shows the group from MAS with which I went to Saltfork.

I am shown wearing the protective mask necessary for paintballing. I also have a jacket on, which really reduced the effect of the paintball hitting my upper body.

There were large mounds and other protective features from which players could defend their base.

When on the offensive, trees could provide places from which to shoot.

On a recent Saturday, I packed all the winter clothes I needed: gloves, a jacket, a few pants. But it was perfectly warm outside. So why the heavy apparel? I was going paintballing for the first time in my life.

Every Saturday, I meet with a group called MAS Connect, including a few of my Muslim friends. So we were scheduled to go paintballing at the Saltfork Premier paintball park in Sydney, about 10 minutes west of Urbana.

We arrived at the park at 2 p.m., and I noticed that many of my friends, most of them paintball veterans, were wearing short-sleeve shirts and shorts. In contrast, I was a penguin.

We each paid $25 to get our guns and a few extra paintballs, and then we had an orientation. There was a safe area near the cars where no one could shoot their gun. Whenever not in the safe area, each person had to also have a protective mask on.

Now familiar with the rules, we were each handed paintball guns with covers to place around the muzzle. We turned off the safety and shot a few practice rounds. Then we started a game of elimination.

There were two teams, the yellow and the red. Each went to opposite parts of the forest, just beyond the range of our guns. At the bellow of the horn, we charged forward, sprinting from ditch to tree to find a nice defensible protection from which to hit people.

There wasn’t much gunfire in the first minute, but afterward, paintballs could be heard from all directions. I hid behind a tree and shot from far range, hitting three people until a paintball hit the tree and sprayed some paint on my jacket.

Luckily for me, since I was wearing the jacket, I didn’t have to deal with bruises. But one of my friends wasn’t so lucky. He was in short sleeves and was hit from behind from 10 feet with a paintball that ripped off the skin where it hit. Afterward we refilled our guns with air and paintballs.

Ten minutes later we played a huge 40-minute game of “capture the flag.” If we were ever hit, we had to run back to our base at the farthest end of the field and start again. The team that raised the most flags in the middle of the field for the longest time would win.

Many paintballers joined us with automatic paintball guns, machine guns, and even a grenade launcher. My team, consisting of less experienced players, was able to outsprint our opponents to the middle and raise our flag, but we weren’t able to hold those flags for half of the game.

That second half of the game took what felt like forever. Everywhere I went, I was quickly hit by the red team. By the end I felt like if I just popped my head a little above the ground, I would quickly be hit. I tried crawling through the leaves to the other side, but was shot by an enemy camouflaged sniper, whom I noticed after it was too late.

I came to SaltFork expecting to use paintball guns that were long ranged and like sniper guns, but while paintballing, I learned that one had to get to a close range to do any major affect. It was WWII style close combat, and by the time I finished, I felt like jumping whenever someone clapped.

By this time we had finished, and one thing that I had learned was that if you want to familiarize yourself with the feeling of a warzone, practicing regularly at Saltfork is the way to go.