Kissito employees respond to Africa’s call

“I think you’re getting lost in the details,” said Josh, VP of marketing and business development, to Kissito president and CEO, Tom. “Tell us the story of when you were in Ethiopia and met Mane. Tell us if he felt light when you picked him up, what it was like to look at him on your lap, what it was like to measure his arm with the MUAC tape.”

Tom, Josh, Elizabeth (director of international development) and I had all walked down a few offices to a recording studio where Tom was going to be in a video discussing Kissito International’s most recent initiative to stop malnutrition in East Africa.

Tom is charismatic and typically a bit rambunctious. This is the president that had me spend my shift hours roasting raw Ethiopian coffee beans outside of the front door of our office about a year ago. He didn’t seem to mind that I had never done it before. He also didn’t seem to mind that I nearly smoked out all the surrounding buildings and had to interrupt his business meeting with very important-looking people in business suits to inform him I had ruined his beans – all while I was dressed up like a baby for Halloween.

This is the president that playfully sends projectile objects at unsuspecting employees while hard at work in their cubicles and wrestles with his squealing toddler during conference calls. This is the president that you know if he is in the office because you can generally hear him.

But now Tom was quiet. Solemn. Dismal. A few moments of silence passed as we watched him deeply focusing on how to speak the words that needed to be said in this video. This was a video meant to inspire and move people to action. How do you do that?

He was timid now and with a voice beginning to tremble and eyes contemplating tears, he replied to Josh, “It’s so much easier to talk about statistics, the facts and the business.”

The hard thing to talk about was the story of four-year-old Mane who Tom met in Southern Ethiopia in August of this year. He measured Mane’s upper arm circumference to be in the white zone of the MUAC tape. This meant Mane was severely, acutely malnourished and his arm circumference was about the same as the circumference of Tom’s thumb. Tom was lead to believe that Mane would be okay, which turned out to not be true. He was disturbed to find out later that Mane had not made it past the 25th day of the same month.

Staff on the ground in Africa carries a great burden: the responsibility of so many lives. The greatest burden of all is the emotional distress over the lives that can’t be saved because it is either too late by the time a patient arrives or because there aren’t enough resources.

Employees respond to the need

For a most urgent response to these needs, Kissito reached out to its U.S. employees first and they have responded. Between the nine Kissito facilities, over $8,000 has been raised since the kick off at the cusp of October.

“It’s been extremely humbling and wonderful to see just how many of our people have really taken this cause to heart and made it their own,” said Kaitlin Parker, HR Assistant at Kissito headquarters in Roanoke. Kaitlin has been one of the most integral parts in running the internal employee campaign for Kissito International. She added, “Even with tight budgets and the holidays approaching, these hard-working people sacrifice in order to help others. This makes their gift much more meaningful.”

Jewish staff accountant at the Roanoke office, Scott Montgomery, raised more than $850 by going on a hunger strike. He extended his Yom Kippur fast to fight hunger with his own hunger. For ten days he consumed nothing but water and, further along, multivitamins. The media caught wind of Scott’s and Kissito International’s cause and the story was featured the Saturday before the end of his strike – on the front page of the major newspaper in the area, The Roanoke Times.

You can read the full story here.

On the Facebook page he created to fuel his cause, one contributor wrote, “We have made a small donation. Now stop starving yourself before you disappear, Scott.” (Scott doesn’t exactly have a lot of meat on his bones in the first place.)

Scott replied, “I can stop starving at any time; we need to help those who cannot without help!”
Scott’s story is a symbol of the heart of The Kissito Employee. Many employees support a variety of causes in addition to this one. Stephanie Cheney, director of marketing at Kissito’s Palm View facility is one. She earnestly fought this month to raise money for children with muscular dystrophy. Currently, Brittany Elmore, assistant director of nursing at The Brian Center in Low Moor, is walking to raise money in the fight against pediatric cancer and catastrophic childhood diseases.

Kissito is fortunate to have a team of extraordinary people consistently demonstrating the Kissito values of integrity, passion, excellence and respect – those who really care about making the whole world a better place, at home and abroad.

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