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Posted on Mon, Jan 3, 2011 : 2:36 p.m.

Charity doesn't begin at home - It is home

By Robert Faber

Editor’s note: This is another in a series of occasional columns by long-time Ann Arbor resident Robert Faber on what he describes as his most recently acquired area of expertise — growing old.

It is just weeks since the casual pace of my life was replaced by the drama of an unanticipated medical problem that disrupted my routine, threatened my survival, and left me forever indebted to the skills of a University of Michigan surgical team. Later, preparing to leave the hospital for my return to civilian life, I was encouraged by many to use that experience as a subject for a future column. A great idea except that there was more to the memory than the sutures.

But the fuller story begins a couple of years earlier.

Several years ago, my niece, Katy, graduated college, joined a few friends in buying and refurbishing an old, discarded school bus, installed a toilet and stove and set out on her big adventure. After several months on the road, her natural sense of social responsibility began to replace her limited focus on fun so she joined the Peace Corps.

Her base was a settlement in Zambia where her assignment was to oversee and assist the lost children of the village, most of whom had been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The story is much too long to detail as a sidebar in this short article, but the essence is that because of her dedication, her very lively imagination and a lot of very hard work, she was able to solicit enough funds and enlist enough local support to build a new school. Then, through a combination of guile and bribery (the kids could use the school’s highly coveted athletic facilities only if they attended classes and some lectures on HIV/AIDS), she managed to educate some, save others from infection and finally to offer them a life better than that of their parents.

The Peace Corps was born in Ann Arbor, so I knew all the necessary facts of its purpose and growth, but I had never really thought much about its breadth or spirit before. For the first time I began to have a better understanding of the extent of the benefits it might provide to those it was designed to help and of the role it might play in the growth and lives of its volunteers. For Katy it was the beginning of a life dedicated to serving the needs of Man. And for me it was a template to help me better understand and appreciate the humanitarian instincts of so many of our people.

So much for the prelude.

In preparation for my surgery, I was introduced to a nurse who was part of the surgeon’s team. She mentioned in passing that she had just returned from Kenya, but when I indicated how much I had enjoyed my visit to that region, she almost exploded with enthusiasm. She told me that she had spent several months there, working very nearly around the clock as a volunteer medical aide for that most needy population. The work was hard, the hours endless, the conditions horrible — and she loved it. She said that never in her life had she felt more productive and rewarded and is now committed to going back to do more of the same.

After the operation I was attended by a number of post-op nurses, all of whom were smart, pleasant, sensitive and deeply concerned about my pain and my future. The other issue that bound many of them was their shared desire to help the ill and indigent in foreign countries that had no access to medical assistance and no funds to obtain it and were therefor doomed to early and horrible deaths. They all revealed to me their very strong desire to once again contribute their services to future medical relief programs for those doomed third-world citizens.

After my discharge that pattern of humanitarian concern was again reflected in comments from the several aides that came to my home to remove stitches or oversee other details of my rehabilitation progress. One nurse’s aide, for example, whose husband and three young children made a month of service in distant third world countries an impossible task, insists that the family spend at least one vacation week each year providing assistance where most needed in this country. Her goal, beyond providing relief for those served, is to help instill a sense of humanitarian responsibilities in her children.

If my exiting alive can be rated as interesting and if recounting the amazing skills of those professionals who got me to that point shares that honor, then my time in the hospital may be worth a column. But of much greater interest (except to my family) is a national characteristic generally overlooked by the daily headlines and network news.

Necessarily missing from such reviews are the remarkable contributions of so many of our neighbors who care and perform, all in the interest of unselfish humanitarian service — and all without acclamation or even notice. Our attention, of course, will always be attracted to issues of national consequence or the drama of political bickering by legislators fighting for reelection, but many of our people — many of those who are the core and the character of our nation — are much more than that. Their efforts will, of course, remain obscured by the daily trauma affecting our larger population, but their contributions to the needy of the world remain fruitful and inspiring — and are amazingly more common than is generally recognized.

And maybe that was the lesson of my hospital stay.

Bob Faber has been a resident of Ann Arbor since 1954. He and his wife, Eunice, owned a fabric store and later a travel agency. He served a couple of terms on the Ann Arbor City Council. He may be reached at