Wow – we should thank our lucky stars………

Last night, I had the absolute pleasure of spending time with an incredible, inspiring man who bought me down to earth with a bump I am sure it was measured on the Richter scale. Myself and 4 other lovely ladies, who are all from a great group here in Vienna called AWA, volunteered to cook and serve food to vulnerable men, who are alone and seeking refuge in a homeless shelter. There are various volunteers who go to the shelter at other times but our group was conducted by a lovely man called Norbert. First things first, we were set the task of foraging for food in the storage and throwing together something that was edible (luckily it was more about flavour and a balanced meal than presentation). All the food is donated and luckily they had a variety of ingredients, which made our mission much easier. We gave ourselves our duties and set to work, although I think there were some nerves in the air too not knowing who we will encounter when serving the food. We made a soup, which could actually have served the WHOLE of Vienna there was so much of it, heated this left over pasta dish, chips, meat and a ratatouille, of course for those vitamins, a side salad. To end the delicious feast there was yoghurt. Once we had finished chopping, dicing, stirring and mixing we had time to chat some more and I got talking to Norbert. He was very well dressed, clean and articulate considering English is not his first language. He explained to me that he is in fact homeless. He is due to get his own apartment very soon which is amazing news and well deserved. I asked him how he found himself homeless and he told me he owned a business with a partner who engaged in not so honest deals, he lost all his money and at one point was fearing for his life. He ended up no longer with a home and the streets were where he laid his head. He told me that he was too proud to ask for help and for 3 days he did not eat, wash or have a secure place to go…..he hit rock bottom. Day 3 he said he put his pride and ego aside, went to a shelter as he could not go on otherwise and has been there ever since. Looking at this man, you would never think and possibly can not imagine how scared, alone and horrible he must have felt as he wears a lovely smile and seems kind, meek and mild. Months on he now works for an organisation which takes people on tours of Vienna to see the ‘darker side’ or the side we tend to want to turn our heads away from…..the homeless, poverty and refuge. The non-profit organisation ‘Shades Tours’ has just won an award and it is growing in popularity – Yay! Listening to Norbert’s story was so humbling – I do remember that my mum donated every month to a homeless charity which runs shelters back in the UK as she said that if ever any of us kids found ourselves homeless we would not be on the streets because at least we would have somewhere to go….

I feel so grateful for what I have and although it is not going to stop me grumbling about stupid stuff that goes on in my life (that is reality), I am going to grumble more humbly. I will never forget the time I spent with someone who has been at the poorest end of the scale with nothing.

The men who came to us to get some food were very suspicious of these ‘do gooders’ and I do not blame them at all – we were a bunch of over enthusiastic over 40 something’s trying to distract from the presentation and serve them a good, solid, hot meal. They took the food and some actually came back for seconds, so our job was done.

We got to speak to a volunteer who had been there for 4 years and she told us that some of the men are Austrian and others are from different countries who come thinking the pavements are made of gold but find they are made of the same concrete as in their own countries. They keep themselves to themselves but at least they have a shower, food and a warm bed to sleep in for the night. A huge shout out to all the volunteers as giving up time is such a gift and also to those men who seek the help and embrace it – there is nothing wrong with it. You are not less of a man for doing so……

Christmas is around the corner, gratitude can be a gift…….just saying 😉

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