It’s hard to choose a favourite speaker out of the five days of amazing presentations at the 2015 AMSA Global Health Conference in Perth, but one of my top picks would have to be Ronni Khan, founder of the national charity OzHarvest. It may have been the lack of sleep starting to kick in, but I could definitely feel the tears welling up in my ducts as she told us her quietly humble, but utterly inspiring story. I could probably write an essay about all the encouraging and challenging thoughts she shared with us during her 30-minute speech, but instead I’m just going to talk about three.
Established in 2004, OzHarvest rescues kilograms of surplus food every day from supermarkets, corporate functions, cafes, markets and hotels, and delivers them onto the tables of Australians living in poverty. One of the things Ronni said that most struck me was that when strangers ask about her about what her charity does, they often respond with ‘but this Australia, no one lives in poverty’. It is easy to be caught up with the poverty and need we see overseas, with the images that fill our TV screens and newspaper covers, and to forget those much closer to home that need our help, in our own backyards. While we had come for a conference on global health, her story was an important reminder that ‘global’ can also mean working towards equality within our own neighbourhoods, within our own country.
The food wastage statistics Ronni presented – 8-10 billion dollars worth of food, around 4 million tonnes, going into landfill each year – had my mind wandering back to my fridge at home, to the vegetables that go bad because of lack of time to cook them, to the half-eaten dinners and the milk that goes off because we forget to check the used-by dates. The average Australian household throws out one out of every five shopping bags, which is equivalent to $1036 worth of groceries each year. Even if we don’t have enough surplus food at home to donate to projects such as OzHarvest, we can still be mindful as consumers, so that we only buy what we need, and use what we buy.
Finally, Ronni made the point that while she started a charity because she saw a need and a potential solution to that need, we don’t all need to do something so dramatic to make a real difference in our society and in the world. The world needs all kinds of people, and no charitable organization can work without the help of those on the ground, the ordinary people who are willing to make even a small contribution to society. Her challenge was to be able to look at yourself in the mirror each day and consider whether you had done your best that day to help leave the world a better place than you found it. It may be a difficult challenge, but it’s an important one, and for me epitomized everything I had learned and experienced at GHC 2015.
All statistics are from OzHarvest’s website, http://www.ozharvest.org/