Archive | July, 2012

A Sobering Saturday Night

2 Jul

Usually, on a Saturday night, you will find me teetering around on sky-high heels enjoying Belfast’s social scene.

Last Saturday was somewhat different.

For the tenth of my 29 Lives, I agreed to take on the challenge of being ‘The Good Samaritan’ by volunteering for a night on the SOS Bus.

Swapping my stilettos for flats and a cosy yellow SOS Bus fleece, I prepared to face an unusual Saturday night feeding and watering the city’s revelers, instead of being one myself.

My night started with a trip around Belfast in the SOS minibus looking out for people in distress with long-standing volunteers, Grace and George. During the hour we spent driving around the city, I was inducted into the world of an SOS Bus volunteer, hearing heartwarming and often funny stories about their experiences over the years.

After our patrol, we went back to the SOS Bus stationed outside the Odyssey Pavilion.

‘Are you squeamish? Does blood, or vomit bother you?’ Grace had asked me at beginning of the night. I grimaced slightly, but replied with a chipper, ‘No, not at all.’

By all accounts, Saturday was quieter than usual, with many of the students having left the city for the summer, flocking back to their respective homesteads. But it was busy enough.

Before long, a steady stream of people began visiting the bus and I, along with a group of my fellow volunteers, began handing out free hot drinks, bread, pancakes and biscuits to rain soaked revelers and people passing by after the Land of Giants show in the Titanic Quarter. Over 700 hot drinks were served at the Odyssey bus alone.

In respect of the patrons of the SOS Bus, I cannot go into the specifics of people that were cared for on Saturday night. But suffice to say, I bore close witness to projectile vomiting and learnt first-hand why there are several large holes in the floor of the bus named ‘carrot holes,’ which have been designed, I’m assured, so that even the largest carrot can be pushed down through them.

Joking aside, on Saturday, along with my fellow volunteers, we helped a number of vulnerable young people find their feet, and a safe way home. It’s hard to explain but it was a very rewarding experience.

During my induction, SOS founder, Joe Hyland shared some useful advice to help me through the evening.

“They will ask, ‘Why are you here; why are you doing this on a Saturday night?’ “he said. “Our answer is simple,” he continued, “Because you are.”

And it is that simple. There are no ulterior motives. There is no catch.

The hundreds of cups of tea, coffee and soup served by the SOS Bus are not doled out with a side order of sermon.

The frequent apologetic ‘I’m sorry, I’ve had a bit too much to drink’ greetings from the kids that visit the bus are met simply with a ‘Don’t worry, we’ve all been there,’ response. It’s true – we have.

It does no harm to remember that we were all young once. As I approach ‘The Big 3-0’, I sometimes catch myself saying things like, ‘the youth of today…’ We forget that we were once the subject of such remarks.

My experience on Saturday night taught me something important. The world is a different place now to when I was a teenager [and that’s not that long ago, thank you very much].

The kids dress differently; many of them drink more than I did at their age; and they’re faced with an even tougher road ahead in terms of getting work after they finish school. But underneath it all, they’re good kids.

The social pressures may be different but the age-old right of passage is the same – we all make mistakes. Most of us have drank too much at some stage in our lives. Some of us still do. But for the kids of Belfast, at least there are people like those on board the SOS Bus to provide a helping hand.

I’m lucky that I’ve never needed to call on the SOS Bus for help personally. But in my student days, when nights out sometimes ended separated from my friends, with no way of getting home, I would have been grateful to see this big yellow bus on the horizon.

Throughout the night, and reflecting on the experience afterwards, I was reminded of local singer-songwriter, Foy Vance’s powerful song, Indiscriminate Act of Kindness. A lot of you will know the song. Some of you won’t. Either way, take a listen.

The scenario might be slightly different but the premise is the same – a little help, offered unselfishly and without expecting anything in return – goes a long way.

The SOS Bus volunteers are mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers (plus a few younger ones, like myself) that have come together to help Belfast’s young people. They see, in the kids they help, their sons and daughters; their grandchildren; and perhaps, like me, younger versions of themselves.

I really enjoyed my time on board the SOS Bus. It was strange getting home just after 3.30am on a Sunday morning, completely sober but high on adrenaline. I might not be in a position to volunteer every week, or every month, but I will be back to volunteer again in the future.

If you’d like to sign up to volunteer on the SOS Bus, call 028 9066 4505 or click here

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