Hello all, I am Dr. Andrew West, and Combat Flip Flops has asked me to contribute some info about conservation. I recently returned from a life changing experience in Uganda, and found this relevant to the topic at hand.
My basic work background is:
Much of my career has been involved in animal research, nature conservation, and trying to reduce conflicts between man and animals. But at least once a year I try to go abroad and make my science count for humanity as well. Yes, that animal we tend to forget about.
Last month I travelled with a team to Northern Uganda to help set up a medical clinic in an orphanage. Originally the orphanage housed 80 child soldiers that were rescued from Joseph Kony’s murderous army. It now houses 300 children (and there are 1000 on the waiting list). Uganda is an amazingly beautiful place with some of the warmest hearted people I have met. But it is also a place with abject poverty due to the war and government corruption.
Over the course of your life there are defining moments; moments that rock you and change your perspective on things. This was one of those moments for me. It occurred walking back from an open-air market in northern Uganda.
The amount of trash in the dirty ditch besides the road is appalling. This roadside ditch we were walking by had muddy, brown stinky water slowly trickling through it. I witnessed a man in ragged trousers pawing at something in the mud within this ditch. Curious, I slowed to see if the old gentleman was collecting plastic to recycle. But I was puzzled, as they don’t recycle here. As he fished out an old plastic cup from the muck I saw him “wash” it in the putrid water. Then to my absolute horror he dipped it in the disgusting flow and started drinking. I yelled “please no, … don’t drink that” and with that I gave him my water bottle. He took the water and immediately shot out his other hand for money. I gave him a 1000 shilling note (approx. 30 US cents) and he beamed.
Then I heard mocking laughter around me and I looked up to see derision on faces of the locals watching me. Their faces said it all “ why waste any amount of money on such a worthless guy?” (Above is a picture that someone actually took of the moment).
OK, in all likelihood that man is already dead. Did the meager effort on my part do anything? … probably not.
He was born in obscurity and he probably died in obscurity, but one thing is for certain; He was a person, a son, somebody's loved one.
But I see this man like all of us: made in the image of God.
More to the point, He has life and is worth keeping alive, equally as much as me. He has value as much as me, AND to quote the words of John Bradford: “But by the grace of God, there go I” which means: if the cards were dealt another way/ another time, it could be me there instead of him.
So every time I look at the orphans, or those who survive the horror of war (like those the Combat Flip Flop team are tangibly helping) I think of the road that they have had to tread, I too recite “But by the grace of God, there go I”
You see conservation isn’t just wildlife ecology, It’s also conserving our humanity, helping those who can't help themselves. We are the only animal capable of stewarding nature (taking care of the other species we share the earth with). We also have a duty tour fellow humans too. Places like Uganda where there are 3 million orphans (due to HIV and war), places like Afghanistan where people have been caught in a maelstrom of tragic circumstances out of their control. Someone once did a really nice thing for me here in Hawaii, a place known for its warm hearted “Aloha”, I questioned him “why are you doing this good thing for me?” .. the person answered simply; “Because I can”.
It’s not about being a good person (as we ALL have our faults!), but we do these things because we have the ability to do them. I want to commend Griff and the entire Combat Flip Flop team who have realized there is more in life than just running a successful business and making a buck.
I also want to thank them for making the sweetest pair of flip flops I own! (and living in Hawaii I own about 20 pairs of flip flops!). Every time I put them on I see that little brass stud (made from a bullet casing) I am gently reminded of the reality of this world. And that we CAN make a difference!
Dr Andrew West is an Environmental scientist and Marine biologist currently living in Kailua Kona, Hawaii. Andrew spent much of his life growing up in South Africa, Australia and Hawaii where he finished his secondary schooling. He and his wife (Jane) are enjoying raising their two young sons.
Andrew started his career working as a deckhand on a professional shark fishing/ research boat in Hawaii, which targeted large tiger sharks. Andrew has spent most of his adult life in scientific research, making nature documentaries as an interest. He now uses these research skills to investigate fascinating aspects of wildlife for television broadcast. Andrew still continues in joint project research assignments with various Universities and Government agencies.
He has earned the reputation as the "Go to guy" for challenging field assignments.