Connecting Worlds With (and Without) Words
Originally published December 6, 2017.
After joining us in the field for the first time, Christine Murray, The Vitamin Shoppe’s Brand & Communications Manager, shares her thoughts on the trip, nonprofit advocacy, and the power of communication in all its forms.
Christine Murray isn’t afraid to ask questions.
“One of my life mantras is, ‘the worst they can say is ‘no’,” she said. Her comment came on the heels of her return from Uganda in October 2017, after spending a week in the field with members of the Vitamin Angels team and representatives from The Vitamin Shoppe–a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with room for only five Vitamin Shoppe travelers. So when the trip was announced, “I raised my hand and said I would be eager to go,” she said.
As The Vitamin Shoppe’s Brand & Communications Manager for the past year and a half, Christine’s been heavily involved with promoting the decade-long partnership between The Vitamin Shoppe and Vitamin Angels. Her hope was “to see a little bit more into the inner workings of this partnership” by traveling to Uganda, she recalled.
‘A little bit’ proved to be a big understatement.
“People can tell you what you’re going to experience and what you’re going to see, but it is completely different than when you are really there,” Christine shared. “On the first day, during our first distribution, there was this little girl that I kept playing with. Even though we weren't able to communicate through language, we were still able to communicate...we danced, we played, sometimes she would hug onto me and look up into my eyes and blow kisses.
The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on her, given her role at The Vitamin Shoppe. “It was incredible that without verbal communication we did create such a connection,” she said.
And while some moments didn’t require words, others were full of questions and conversation.
“During the interviews with the families, we would ask, ‘Do you have any questions for us?’ And they would just ask for help, like, ‘Can you help fix our roads?’” she said. “We would have to reinforce that we were there to help with vitamin A, deworming, and prenatals, and if we expanded the program we wouldn't be able to be so focused in those areas.”
In communities like those the team visited in the east African country, where the needs are varied and abundant, “You feel amazing because you know that you're helping,” she said, “but then you also feel a little helpless on the other side.”
She paused. “Seeing the area of where these people really live, the poverty that they have…kids not wearing shoes…seeing their big bellies from [worms] and being there, being surrounded by it, is very overwhelming.”
That firsthand experience, heart-wrenching as it was, reminded her of the value of the partnership.
“Going into it, I didn't really understand the role of the non-governmental organizations and some of our partners out there. It was cool to see the ‘trickle’ effects of how everything is really connected. Working with the NGOS every day and meeting with them before the distributions—learning about what they do—was really helpful, and also inspiring.”
It wasn’t the only connection she made while in the field. During some of the community visits, Christine’s interviews with mothers and matriarchs she met resonated on another level.
“Seeing some of the mothers who were surrounded by 15 children—and they would say that those were their children, even if they didn’t birth them—made me think of my mom. Because I feel like my mom is the same way, in that she would take anyone into her home, give anybody food, and help anybody out like that. It was a really nice parallel. Ever since I was really little I have always done a lot of volunteer work with my mom. I would help her with Meals on Wheels; I would play the piano at nursing homes,” she recounted.
“I think that my mom is one of the strongest women that I know. I'm so proud that she has instilled [in me] the value of helping others. She likes to do a lot with her church and nursing homes; she has niches that she's found and gives back to—so I'm happy I have been part of that. I’m happy to take that and move forward.”
Even though the days in the field were long and required many hours in transit—often on bumpy, unpaved roads—, Christine’s already eager to join the Vitamin Angels team on another trip. Until then, she also plans to build upon her support closer to home. In 2016, she ran the New York City marathon to raise awareness and funds for Vitamin Angels, and has other ideas to advocate the Vitamin Angels/Vitamin Shoppe partnership.
“I think that [the marathon] might have been a ‘one and done’ for me. I definitely liked the journey of it better than the actual day of it...it was very tough!” she admitted. “But the Uganda trip is not the end of my campaign with Vitamin Angels; it really is just the beginning: I’m getting married next year and would like to intertwine Vitamin Angels somehow with my wedding!”
Since she spoke to us, Christine participated in a company lunch-and-learn, where she shared her experience in the field with her colleagues; the Vitamin Shoppe team launched a December campaign for Vitamin Angels to engage community fundraisers as well. Christine’s also shared her story, and those of the families she met in Uganda, with her family and friends on social media.
It’s not a matter of if she’ll continue to share the power of vitamins; that much is certain. For Christine, the only question is what she’ll do next.
View the original piece and full photography at vitaminangels.org.
Photo credit: Sophia Billiopf for Vitamin Angels