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An Oxfam volunteer at Coldplay’s Brisbane concert

Kaitlyn in pea suit with Emma Chathu

December 5 was International Volunteer Day – an important date in the calendar for Oxfam and other non-profit organisations who rely so much on the support of dedicated volunteers.

Kaitlyn McGinley is one of many “vollies” who helped out at the recent Coldplay concerts around Australia, gathering signatures and spreading the word about Oxfam’s GROW campaign – which Coldplay supports.

Thanks to dozens of volunteers around the country, more than 11,000 people have signed the GROW Pledge.

Here’s Kaitlyn’s account of her volunteer experience at the Brisbane concert last month, where she says her “dreams of dressing up as a giant vegetable came to fruition”…

Every time one gets a call asking for services as a volunteer at an Oxfam event there is a thrill of excitement and trepidation; what will the assignment will be, where it will take place and what challenges it may present?  My most recent foray into the wonderful world of Oxfam volunteering was no exception.

It started with a seemingly innocuous phone call from Ann.  All that was initially asked of me was if I was available on Wednesday 21st November from 4:30pm in the afternoon.  My affirmative response elicited mention of a petition for the GROW campaign, which would have been sufficient to peak my interest, however there was more in store…

The petition signatures were to be gathered at the Coldplay concert, the last stop on their Mylo Xyloto World Tour, guaranteed to be an incredible show, and I would be there dancing along.  In an effort to not frighten Ann I squealed on the inside and did a little happy dance around my room.

Further good news followed…there were costumes! My dreams of dressing up as a giant vegetable were about to come to fruition.

On the day I arrived to meet my fellow Oxfamers outside Suncorp Stadium wearing comfy shoes and a bit of nervousness at the prospect of approaching complete strangers for 2-3 hours.  That said, GROW and food security/sovereignty are particular passions of mine and my own indignation over the land grabbing phenomenon proved sufficient for me to overcome any natural tendency towards shyness and buddy up to spread the word to excited Coldplay fans about the gross injustices being suffered and endured by millions of small scale farmers in the developing world.

After meeting everyone and discovering what their favourite ice cream is (a crucial step in the process of making friends as far as I’m concerned) we marched inside donned shirts and costumes, packed our goodie bags with stickers, pamphlets, water bottles and positivity and braced for impact as the crowds gathered outside the gates ready to storm the field as it were to ensure prime viewing locations!  A decision was silently made, and it was a wise one I believe, by the group to let the first waves pass through the entrance hall.  This was for our own safety…those were some determined Coldplay fans!

As we made our way down onto the field and started talking to people any fears I’d harboured were quickly pushed from my mind.  The fans were interested, asked some questions, listened, and for the most part willingly and enthusiastically signed our petition.  Dressed as a giant pea I got many requests for photos and it certainly spiked people’s curiosity with a number of people approaching my buddy and I to ask “why?!”.  There were few incidents of hilarity aside from when Emma and I were challenged by security on the field before being rescued by a different security guard who said we were alright (that was tense!) and had permission to be there collecting signatures.  We also were asked by a gentleman in a prime location if we could buy him a bottle of water from the nearby beverage cart so he would not lose his spot, which I did whilst he signed the petition and was photographed for the website; I didn’t want him to become dehydrated after all.

About an hour and a half into our expedition the pea suit became very warm indeed.  Extra hydration was required to account for that as well as the amount of talking, smiling and laughing we were doing.  While the warm up acts were playing Emma, my buddy, and I gave up on the field and started doing loops of the stadium chatting to people as they wandered around, milled about, and munched on snacks.  The deafening noise of the show meant long involved conversations were impossible but we soldiered on buoyed by our successes and adjusting our tactics after the mild rebuffs we did receive.

At about 7:50pm we reported back to HQ where I de-pea’d and started entering the data from paper petitions into the tablets.  The building excitement in the stadium was palpable in the final minutes before Coldplay came onstage so it was with happy hearts that we, the campaigners, collected our awesome light-up wristbands and prepared to descend to the field one last time.  A highlight for me was assisting Rachel, the manager of this fantastic endeavour, to take all the gear down into the bowels of the stadium…my secret hopes of encountering the band en route to the stage did not materialise but it was really cool to see all the people working underground behind the scenes to make everything awesome for the fans.  After relinquishing our loads Rachel led us out to the field wished us a fabulous time and disappeared to enjoy some well-deserved R and R while we went out to dance and sing our little hearts out.  These guys put on a really good show and getting to watch it as a ‘reward’ for our efforts was a delicious perk.

And that is how I spent much of a balmy early summer evening dressed as a giant pea rocking out with 40,000 of my closest friends to the musical stylings of Coldplay.  The entire experience proved an interesting source of reflection; my disillusionment about the ignorance and apathy of many people dissipated as I was reminded that it is our job as campaigners to pique the interest of people and fan the flames of curiosity.  By raising awareness and fighting injustice we are creating our own form of hope, it has reminded me to have faith in the fact that people are very willing to stand up to injustice, they just need the right tools and encouragement to do so.

Kaitlyn McGinley, Oxfam Australia volunteer