Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Lady and her Words

I thought I would share another little moment that made a difference in my day. If you don't already know, I work part-time as a support person for a 15-year-old boy with autism. Most days, this job doesn't feel much like work. I get to pick him up from home, and try to have a good time whether this imeans going for walks outside, riding the city bus (something he loves) or paying the children's museum a visit. As I say this, however,there are also days where the responsibility of dealing with his severe autism challenge me. Yesterday was one of these days.

I won't get into the details...but suffice it to say that after struggling for nearly 45 minutes, I finally managed to deal with a difficult situation. As the two of us (the boy I work with and I) began to pack our belongings and head for the car, an elder lady approached me and said, "you are a good girl, God bless you." I am not sure how much of my struggle she witnessed, but after it was all over her words and kind smile were so reassuring and comforting.

So, even though she'll never know (because at the time I was speechless and let her walk away without more than a smile in return), I am thankful for that lady and her words.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Considering Suffering

I read an article today that mentioned how Canadians are reportedly optimistic (relative to other countries polled) regarding their financial status in the future, despite the currently grim economic situation. When compared on a global scale, Canadians were amongst the least worried to lose their jobs, and most optimistic that this economic turmoil will be over sooner (as little as two years) than later. This could be that our southern neighbour, the U.S. seems to be sinking in financial hardships and blown over with economic despair; meanwhile, in Canada it seems we just haven't been facing the same reailty. As vice-president of Environics research, Donna Dasko stated, "We're hearing stories daily about the collapse of the world economy and the terrible situation south of the border, so Canadians have naturally responded with alarm. But we're impacted more by what we hear, not by our actual situation"

This disconnected and sensationalized impact seems to be a common theme in desparity, be it economic, social or otherwise. We are bombarded with war, death, poverty and the like through media and have become desensitized to really connecting and feeling anything about it. In a way, how are we able to really feel the reality of each situation and cope? Lifeboat ethics comes into play, and when someone is overwhelmed with the magnitude of destitution they save themselves from drowning with the rest by shutting it out and climbing aboard the boat of sweet ignorance.

So where do we find a balance? I do this constantly myself, and am not trying to harp on everyone who has turned their cheek or I would be hypocritical. It is a coping mechanism we all use to stay afloat. But I feel like their is more to this effort.

The other day at a seminar for Beyond Borders we were told supper would be provided. Eager to eat a meal we didn't have to make, our leader, Lisa, then informed us that we would be served the average meal of people around the world. This consisted of beans and rice, flavoured with lemon juice if you so wished. No one complained about it, and we all tried to enjoy it, but it was certainly unexpected and the idea of going home to eat a feast of whatever I could find in my fridge seemed more appetizing. But that was just it. The average person around the world could not just go home to their fridge full of food and ignore the painstaking hunger or the lack of substance which this meal provided.

Through this simple demonstration, each of us were forced to really consider and connect to another person's troubles. To me, this was more profound than reading a story in the paper, or watching it on television and it stuck with me a lot longer. While we can't use this example for every tragedy we come across, I think it is important to really embrace the reality of suffering in other's people's lives. Freire considered solidarity to be built only when the oppressors truly abandon their predispositions toward the objectification of humanity. Thus, taking time to recognize the reality of suffering serves as a reminder to rekindle our efforts toward building solidarity and influencing change.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I realize today that I am almost the most behind on blogs, and I feel really bad about this. It is not that I dont care, and not that I don't have anything to say. More than anything it is that I am a perfectionist. I want them to be perfect, and I always want them to reach people... to be written well and to stand out. I think I always want to have something profound to say, and part of the Beyond Borders experience is teaching me that this is exactly what I need to negate.

I want to get back to the basics. Like I said in my first post, this isn't about divulging life changing revelations, it is about being honest; and honestly, I think the big stuff is to come. Everything I am experiencing and blogging about now seems miniscule compared to what we are all attempting to prepare ourselves for this summer. Trying to find something profound to say is hard because more and more I am finding that change comes in baby steps. So here are a few examples of little things I've noticed or experienced throughout my time at the Working Centre or life recently that have made me stop and reflect.

  • While working at WASL a fellow volunteer described how keeping busy at the Working Centre after work keeps him from getting into alcohol. Thoughts: everyone has a story, and it is beautiful how humble work can open people towards one another
  • Ahead of me in the crowd of students walking through campus someone casually tossed their Tim's cup aside. Someone else went to pick up the litter before I could reach it. Thoughts: When you are frustrated, you are not alone
  • While at WASL, there was a note on the whiteboard in backroom that read, "Joe has been to school 8 days in a row!" (Joe was not the actual name). Thoughts: accomplishments should always be celebrated, always

Time and time again we have heard that we can not change the world. But when small moments like this accumulate and influence other experinces the growth is exponential. While life happens around each individual they grow and learn... and each experience impacts the shaping of what we all become. So while these may seem simple, they made me stop and think, and even this seemingly inconsequential influence has made a difference.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Importance of Dialogue

A highschool teacher relayed his own story of frustration and misunderstanding to myself and peers, and I feel this story helped me with my own perspective of the Working Centre and its community members, and as such, I thought I would share:

The teacher knew of a single mother of three, who strived to provide stability for her family on a consistent basis. Relocating housing; and fending for food to eat, clothes to keep warm, and shoes to walk in were a norm for this family. Every month, the mother received a cheque from welfare to help her support her family, and every month she would spend her cheque the same way. Her and her family ritually proceeded to a local restaurant, splurged the funds on a feast of fine dining, and left the table full for the night. Not once did the family abandon this custom.

The teacher was perplexed and offended by this. A family staggering in poverty, three children succumbed to the hardships of starvation and instability, fully reliant on their mother who seemingly wasted his hard earned tax dollars away on one night of extravagancies. He could visibly see the needs of these individuals by the tatters in their clothing and shoes, and in his mind conjured a thousand more efficient ways to spend the cheque in order to provide lasting, more worthy essentials to the family. He thought silly of the mother who seemed to abandon the needs of her children by her frivolous expenditure.

After turning his head time and time again from this routine, my teacher finally decided to take a stance and approached the mother. He expressed concern for the well being of her and her children, and continued to explain his disapproval of her wasting the cheque on dining out when alternative investments were blatantly imperative.

Her unexpected response was simple. All she had known since becoming a single mother was poverty, and thus, this life was all her children had known as well. Their lives were infiltrated with insatiate needs and demeaning judgment from onlookers. So, when she used her cheque once a month to indulge in an extravagant meal, it served as the one day a month to escape from this life of oppression. For one meal, her children were satiated, for one meal the family was lifted from poverty and equal to those around them, for one meal there were no worries and life was bliss. It was a memory and gift given to her children despite all the suffering they faced, and something none of them wanted to sacrifice.

From this story, I have learned to better appreciate that negligence of preconceived notions and judgment is necessary. As Freire reminds us, only dialogue can create understanding, and thus, solidarity. Rather than passing judgment and imposing our views on others, it is quintessential to stop, discuss and learn. Only through this may we fully allow others to be human, and fully humanize ourselves in turn.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Sense of Community

I’m really feeling at home with the Beyond Borders group this year. I think a lot of us have the same feeling on our mind: hanging out together is a blast. We come from different academic backgrounds, have varying beliefs and opinions regarding religion, and each has a unique blend of traits and attributes that make for an adverse group when together. It really is funny that from these varying walks of life we’ve managed to find unity in this program, in this one goal to learn, grow and share. It is this piece of us that we have built on as a group, and through which a stronger sense of community continues to grow with effort.

I’ve come to really value these individuals, and I think it has been a recent event that many of us are really able to appreciate each other. So, as Kate and John and others have expressed in their recent posts, I wanted to reiterate my gratitude to each of these participants. Thank you for dialogue most of all; for sharing your frustrations, for making me laugh, for your patience with my own flaws, for being part of my life, and for letting me into yours.

There is a sense of comfort in knowing that while I may feel alone or confused in Ukraine this summer, there are 12 others around the world who can relate. The exciting prospect is that my journey has only begun, and while travelling and engaging with others around me, my community of support will continue to grow.