Another week, another fantastic volunteering story from The Greatest Show on Earth! This week’s entry comes from Eli Benson, who works for Magen David Adom (MDA UK). Used to helping people for a living, Eli tells us how he takes the kindness learned from his job and transfers it into the world of volunteering…
The Games Maker, as 70,000 of the volunteers are called, really made such a difference to the outstanding 2012 Olympics. I know at least 2 other members of my synagogue volunteered and also my son, Eytan, who worked with the weightlifters. We were wholeheartedly praised and I can’t state how often people spoke to me on my bus trips to and from the staging point or in the streets to congratulate me. One lady even wanted to take the Olympic shirt off my back.
I have been enthusiastic supporter of the 2012 Olympics from the date we were given the honour of staging it. I was prepared to do anything. 250,000 people applied and I was lucky in having the opportunity of an interview at the EXCEL centre. I was then informed that I would be one of the drivers. We were in the front line of meeting and getting to know some wonderful VIP’s very well.
BMW supplied their top of the range cars and I worked from Park Lane. My shift was for a month commencing on Monday 16 July and ending on Wednesday 15 August. A fantastic experience of 16 ten-hour shifts.
The drivers came from all parts of the UK, and I would say most were over 50. I suppose they could not trust very young driver with such expensive cars. I met one lady who came from Dublin and others from Scotland, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. Many set up tents nearby while others rented accommodation or stayed with friends. Many non-Londoners had never experienced driving in London and sometimes found it very difficult to find their way around, especially using the erratic GPS systems. One of my last guests said that one driver took him around London for over an hour for what should have been a 10 minute drive, so he was very relieved when I told him that I was from London. I of course learnt a lot during the training and visiting all the Olympic sites and hotels.
But most of those we drove were full of praise of the volunteers. There are so many stories I could tell. I drove several Sport Ministers including one from Jamaica, and she was so proud of her athletes as was the Minister from Ivory Coast, who was also very proud of his footballers and knew all about my team, Arsenal. But two stories will always stay in my mind. I picked up a couple from Guam, a small island consisting of 200,000 citizens, who told me that they wanted to be taken to ‘the waters’. On checking on the radio where they meant, I was told to drive them to Eton Dorney, near Windsor Castle. As I got off the M4 motorway they realised that I gone to the wrong venue as they actually wanted to see one of their athletes swimming which was the other way, in the Olympic Park in Stratford. They were fuming and most upset. They were also very hungry as they did not have time for breakfast. So I offered to stop so that they could have lunch. We parked near Kensington and to my surprise they invited me to join them and we became instant friends. I then drove them to the Olympic Park. It so happened I was driving a few days later a staff member of the IOC, International Olympic Committee, based in Zimbabwe. I was with him practically the whole day and he was telling me stories of cars getting lost and mentioned that he heard from the couple from Guam how they had spent five hours with a driver but found that they could not get annoyed because of his kindness. What a small world. I asked him to convey my best to them.
Writing about being a small world. When I was working at World Jewish Relief, I was intimately involved in helping the Jews and non-Jews in Sarajevo, during the nasty civil war. As I was driving one of the visitors to the Olympic village, I discovered he was originally from Sarajevo and now lives in France and is a senior member of the IOC. We spent the hour comparing notes talking about the people we both knew and about the tragedy that took place in the former Yugoslavia. I could write many other tales, one being when I asked two visitors from Norway how and why their country had become anti-Semitic. Even then the discussions were amicable.
It was not all plain sailing, often we hung around or parked for hours not picking up a single person and complaining to our so called ‘Controllers’ who we kept in constant touch with. And sometimes our GPS systems were more of a hindrance then a help. I often ignored it and made my own way to my destinations. But on the whole it was an experience I would not have missed for the world.