Over time, every organization gets shaped by and resembles the people who contribute the most to it. Part of the reason I love International Samaritan so much is because of how much it resembles an 84-year-old woman who has been one of its most faithful companions.
Pauline was born in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1938. As the devastation of World War II spread across the globe, Pauline’s family fled for safety, first to China and then India. Her parents worked hard to keep food in the house for her and her seven siblings, and Pauline remembers fondly sitting in front of their house at the age of two with her three-year-old sister waiting for her parents to come home from work.
“There was this guy who came down the street selling noodles,” she said, “and he would always give a bowl to my sister and me. I don’t know why he did that. Maybe because we smiled and said ‘hi’ to him. But that was really nice. When my parents found out, they would always pay him back later. That’s just the way it was back then.”
Pauline and her oldest sister, Caroline, in 1942
Pauline’s family settled in Malaysia after the war, and Pauline would likely still be there were it not for one life-changing event: a scholarship to college.
Just like an IntSam scholar today, Pauline used that scholarship to change her future. She became a physical therapist and eventually immigrated to the United States in 1967, settling down in Ann Arbor and working at St. Joe’s Hospital for 23 years. She has also been supporting and traveling to our partner communities ever since she met International Samaritan in 2008.
In Kipling’s words, Pauline has filled “the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.” She just accompanied Andrew Pawuk on a trip to Ethiopia to help us explore expansion opportunities in Africa. The highlight of the trip for her was Mirhetu, our star scholar-runner.
“He gets up at 4:00 AM every day to run before going to school. Can you believe that?” Pauline asked me.“ Pauline is one of the most disciplined people I know, waking at 5:30 every morning and attending Mass every day before most people get to work. Every night she does calisthenics before going to bed, so I think she was feeling a little challenged by the first person she ever met whose work ethic may exceed her own.
Never one to come in second place, Pauline confided to me, “He weighs 97 pounds. I’m only 95, so I pinched his arm and told him, ‘you’re fat!’”
Pauline loves to laugh and will always give it to you straight. And our mission is deeply personal for her.
“He needed spikes so we took him to a running store. I told him to get an outfit too. He’s 20-years-old, and this is the first time in his whole life he’s ever been in a store and to just buy something nice. He’s so humble.” Pauline reflected. She made things better for Mihretu on that trip. He’ll be running in a half marathon on February 12, competing for the chance to run internationally, and he’ll be wearing a sweat suit he picked out—paid for by a woman who never forgot the kindness of a stranger who gave her a bowl of noodles more than 80 years ago.
Mihretu in his new sweat suit with Pauline last weekend
Mike Tenbusch, IntSam President
Mike joined International Samaritan in 2018 after two decades of leading social change efforts in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and author of The Jonathan Effect: Helping Kids and Schools Win the Battle Against Poverty. He and his wife, Maritza, have three children who keep them young.
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