At this time of year most of us sit down to make new years resolutions for the coming year. We decide on all of the things that we are going to change, do differently and resolve to do better. Most of the time these resolutions revolve around losing weight, spending less money, drinking less alcohol, quitting smoking, or changing our lifestyle or habits in some way.
What if you were given the chance to do something bigger than that?
What if you were given the opportunity to do something that you have always wanted to do?
The only requirement is that it cannot be about you, that you have to look beyond yourself and your own goals to a bigger vision. You have to change the lens on your camera from the usual one to a wide angle one that will take in all those around you and go even farther than the lens or you can see.
What if someone said to you: What do you want to do?
What would you answer?
Would you have an answer?
Or are you too wrapped up in the everyday problems that surround you to look beyond to something that you may have always wanted to do?
If you don’t ask
I don’t ask you these questions without asking them to myself first.
My answers I am sure are like yours and revolve around my small world and me. Yet that is not what the true answer is if I am honest with myself and slow down long enough to think of a real answer and not just the one I am supposed to give to pass the test.
This isn’t a test.
This is life.
And it is precious.
And it seems to be getting more and more precious each day, each week and each year.
So let’s challenge each other and ask the question now:
What do you want to do?
Now answer it.
Let’s mark our calendars for next year on this same day and time and see if we did what we said we would do.
I dare you.
Depending on where you are at in the world, November 11th, 2011 could be already done and if it’s not, it must be getting close. There has been a lot of talk this year because of the whole 11-11-11 thing. Has it really made a difference to what this day is all about?
Today is a day that we remember those we have lost to war. I almost didn’t write a post today even though I have written one ever since I started blogging. Before that I used to send a mass email on this day. You see my father, who is 91, fought in the Second World War. Was that the war to end all wars? If it was, it didn’t. My father flew a Spitfire. I am proud of that as much because of what he was fighting for as because I cannot imagine doing what he did. I don’t really know what he did, he never spoke about it. Why would he?
I thankfully have never lived what he and so many others lived and still live today in wars that are going on throughout our world. I am far too naive in how I look at the world. I expect everyone to see things like I do. If we look around at all that is going on how could we think that more fighting, more killing, and more war could be the answer?
Everywhere in the social media channels today we are seeing poppies in profile photos, reading stories of war veterans, sharing of children’s takes on all of this and I want to say it is enough, but I will challenge you on if it is and ask that we all continue to talk and share about the possibility of peace and by doing that, just maybe, we will find our way to a true peace one day.
I want to think that maybe if we all would do that, then things would change. I have to hold on to that maybe, for in that maybe there is hope. And hope is why my father flew a Spitfire so many years ago and it is why we wear poppies today and why we must continue to remember.
The mission of The Social Effect is: through the Internet and through Social Media platforms, to help each other connect, learn from one another, and share information to make change in our communities where and when it is needed.
Back in August I came across a Tweet from BraBankAppeal that said:
Determined to make a change for Africa’s females, arm them with bras and new found security need support and advice…
And so I asked BraBankAppeal, what they wanted to do exactly and to see if there was a way to help.
At the moment I want awareness of the issue and of my Project so that when the time comes to start collecting underwear people will respond.
So I did a little digging and found out that there was a Facebook Page and what the Bra Bank Appeal is all about.
I also sent a direct message to Beth, the woman behind The Bra Bank Appeal, and we started to exchange emails. In learning what Beth was doing, I wanted to help if I could.
Here is an interview I did with Bethany Staff about her project The Bra Bank Appeal.
What is The Bra Bank Appeal?
The Bra Bank Appeal is a small project I started before I went to Uganda to work in an AIDS orphanage in July. It aims to collect underwear, the new and old, (the decent and the not so decent) to send to countries in the third world (Uganda to start with) to protect their women from sexual abuse.
Why did you start this project and where did you come up with the name?
A few months before going to Uganda I was desperately researching ‘what Uganda needs’ so that I could do my bit, no matter how small to take something with me… I managed to find a website which listed the order of which the containers (full of used goods) that are sent to Africa are emptied: shoes were first (I thought this was fairly obvious) then second was bras… I was intrigued by this and did some further research and found out that women who wear underwear are less likely to be raped. Also, bras sell for roughly three times the cost price (more than any other used item) and so were very much so a luxury item. So I spoke to my amazingly artistic best friend who designed lovely posters, I revamped card-board boxes I was given by local shops in to hot pink ‘Bra Banks’. I got the mums of friends to put posters in their work place and store bras in their car boot and posters and Banks placed all around my college, local schools and the local tourist information office, I had an advert in the local newspaper, I was mentioned on peoples twitter accounts, I walked around local clothing outlets and begged for help and I just watched the message spread. The response was phenomenal!
The name, I knew it would be the bra … something! So I rattled around a few ideas ‘Bras for Uganda’, ‘The Bra Box’ I finally settled on ‘The Bra Bank Appeal’ as I felt it was simple, like the cause, nothing fancy – it’s a necessity that we take so for granted and sexual abuse is a subject close to every women’s heart. So it simply had to succeed! Well, that’s what I had to tell myself during the first few quiet weeks!
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I am 18 years old and I am studying the International Baccalaureate in Cornwall (UK). I hope next September to go on to study Economics and Spanish at university. My ultimate dream is to forge links between western governments and successful organization and those in South America to try to improve their economies and give advice to businesses. Basically when I was little, I decided I was going to change the world, now I’m just trying to climb that ladder!
It looks like you want to affect change in our world – why?
This question looks complicated but it’s actually very easy! Someone has to, so why not me?
Do you think this is everyone’s responsibility?
I think everyone should try to do their bit, even if saving the world isn’t on the top of your priority list, there are so many things that you can do to help! For example, it astounds me every time I get on public busses how very few people will give up their seat for the elderly or a child anymore! Little things you do can just keep the world ticking over a little more smoothly.
Is changing the world your goal?
In an ideal world – of course! In reality, so I don’t feel like I’m not achieving anything, I’d prefer to say that making a difference is my ultimate goal. Whether that is to one person or to an entire country, it’s still an improvement! If I protected one girl/woman from a sexual attack with the underwear I took with me then I will sleep easy! But there’s always more you can do…
What do you find most challenging about your project?
I’d have to say before I went to Uganda, were the critics. I know every notion of change will always face criticism, but people said that I was naïve (which with my age, I expected), that I had not researched this enough and that by giving the Ugandan women and girls underwear I would encourage prostitution and rape and men would see it as ‘an exciting challenge!’ Needless to say I was outraged and informed the relevant people that I was incredibly and personally offended that someone would accuse me of encouraging the very thing I set out to prevent!
Today it is the day to day running of the social networking, juggling this project around the floods of college work, a family life, a social life and working part-time is a definite challenge!
Tell me about some of the people you have met doing this that have had an effect on you.
Being in Uganda itself was an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life! For me the most memorable people along the way were some of the ladies I gave underwear to, I asked all the orphans of bra wearing age, the ‘mamas’ (a women is in charge of each orphan house on the village) their daughters and the women of the village to come and choose themselves some underwear one afternoon when we covered our ‘Mission House’ with underwear. The women who were unable to attend that afternoon I invited to come any time before then. One girl who was my age came to me excitedly one afternoon, bringing with her, her mother and the mama who had been cooking for us during our stay. I showed them all to my room and opened some of the massive bags of underwear, the mother stripped off down to her knickers and proceeded to try as many bras on as she could, the mama looked down at her chest then grabbed my boobs, thought for a second then said: “Yes, I think I’m your size help me find things that would fit you!” And the girl burst into tears and told me that God had finally had mercy and that may I be blessed. Unforgettable!
What do you do when you are not working on the Bra Bank Appeal?
Generally, college work! I do also work in a wine bar, sing, meet friends, play the guitar, spend time with my family spend time with my boyfriend. To be honest I’m just your average teenager!
Is The Bra Bank Appeal full time?
I wish it could be but I’m strong believer in education and it being the key to everything else I want to do with my life.
What networking do you do to help get more goods?
I’m on Facebook and Twitter, I’m probably a disappointment to my generation but I really don’t know where to start with these things! My heart’s in the right place though!
Did you have a strategy when you started this project?
Ha! This is where I wish I could regurgitate some very complex strategic plan to you… No I really didn’t at all, it was a cause that I believed spoke for itself so just went for it and kept my fingers crossed! (This probably is not recommendable to others thinking of starting something similar!)
What is your greatest fear?
Failure. Failure in anything and everything, when I choose to do something I put so much of myself into it, I really put my heart and soul into everything I do!
What is your goal?
To forge links with organizations that are able to help me to transport bras and knickers across the globe, safely and directly into the hands of those who need them most.
What has been your greatest challenge so far?
Besides carrying home bin bags full of underwear (which are very heavy I’ll have you know) every day? Definitely dealing with the criticism, I remember bursting into tears when I was criticized, it makes you doubt everything you are doing!
You had an idea to help others, what gave you the push to take that first step, what would you suggest to anyone else who had an idea to help others?
Definitely, having a brilliant cause for doing it! If I had an obscure issue that not many people could relate to then it would have crashed and burned. My advice would be to do your research, be able to fire back answers to any questions you could be asked and above all else, have a damn good cause that you are passionate about – and don’t be ashamed to show how important the cause is to you, people will follow a worthy cause!
Do you ever feel like giving up?
Not give up, but not bother to do more… yes everyday! We all feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day and have a seemingly never-ending list of things to do, but then I remember the overwhelming feeling of crying with woman after woman while they pray and thank the lord for the underwear I brought them. I have never been a theist myself but their faith was astonishing. Also I remember playing with a tiny little boy on a woven mat; his mother was kicked out of her home after falling pregnant due to being gang-raped on the way to collecting water for her family. She was 14 years old. So no, I won’t let myself give up.
What do you consider your greatest achievement (s) so far?
Getting over 2000 items of underwear to Uganda without exceeding baggage allowances!
Who are your heroes?
The 14 year old girl I have previously mentioned who had to mature beyond her years to live alone, caring and providing for her little boy. She is a beautiful mother.
Also an elderly woman I met in Uganda who has a paralyzed torso and walks on her toes and knuckles, she cares for her four grandchildren in a small mud hut. All of her children died due to AIDS.
What would you like to be remembered for?
For helping people when they needed help, for making people happy when times are hard, for giving, advising and for being someone that people would turn to.
Where do you see The Bra Bank Appeal in 6 months or a year from now?
I would love for ‘The Bra Bank Appeal’ to be a flourishing charity with underwear being sent all over the world with various organizations who would offer to help. Not making a penny but making a difference.
The philosophy at The Social Effect is it only takes one person to affect the world and that person is each one of us. We must make a cultural shift to see the possibilities we each hold and to learn first to give and to help each other, which in turn will help those around us. Beth and her project illustrates this perfectly. Thank you Beth for all that you are doing to help others.
If you would like to help Beth and her Project I would encourage you to ‘LIKE’ The Bra Bank Appeal Facebook page, click here.
If you are on Twitter, follow the BraBankAppeal, click here.
You may also contact Beth at email@example.com
(All photos are the property of The Bra Bank Appeal)
I went to New York this past weekend for work and for fun. In the back of my mind I kept hearing a nagging voice:
Occupy Wall Street – are you going to check it out or not “Mr. Each One of Us Can Make a Difference
Sunday was a beautiful morning and I headed downtown. First stop was going to be to see Ground Zero and second stop: Occupy Wall Street. No need to mention the appropriateness of the two side by side. That is the whole point of where the occupation is. I never got to see Ground Zero, I didn’t have photo ID with me, but I did get to see Occupy Wall Street, actually I got to smell it as well.
There in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan were I don’t know how many people sitting, talking, making posters, eating, doing what you do when you live in a park protesting against the divide between the have’s and the have not’s. I am not going to explain the movement, you can Google Occupy Wall Street and you will have more links than you will be able to read or watch. This is just about what I saw on Sunday when I sat down with a few of the protesters to do my best to understand this.
Hey, my name is Simon, I am from Montreal and I have a blog called The Social Effect which is all about the idea that each one of us can make change in our world if we want to….and I guess this what you are doing here. Mind if I ask you a few questions about what this is all about and why you are here?
I usually added in, I am an old guy from…. as to most of these kids, I am sure that is what I was. And that is part of what this is all about. But I am getting ahead of myself. Each person I spoke to talked to me about the obvious reason that all the protesters were there, the financial chaos that they see affecting the world and the need for regulation to stop this. But there is more to it than that. Much more.
The first person I spoke to was Trista, she is 23 years old and came up from West Virginia and had been there for three days. She knew the ideology behind the movement and was certainly the right person to speak to first. Here are her thoughts:
This is a movement for occupation, an opportunity to rebuild and to fight against the enemy. Who is the enemy? Those trying to oppress. We are fighting for a better world, for the essence of what it is to be human, to reconstruct.
I asked her if she was afraid of anything.
Fear is optional. This is an opportunity.
She was a little intense for me and I did feel like she was trying to indoctrinate me and perhaps herself in everything she was saying, but in any grass roots campaign must there not be the zealots who believe, who fire up the others, who keep the message clear and protected? That was Trista.
I made my way along and sat down next with Brendan, who is 20 years old and he had been there for five days, he studies history in Connecticut.
Money is buying the politicians. There is no true voice because they have been bought and paid for and the one with the biggest purse behind them always wins.
He spoke to me about poverty and about not wanting to live in a country that based itself on money alone. He was heading back home that day.
Next I sat down with Collette, who is 37 and from the Lower East Side. She was surrounded by a group who seemed not too impressed with me, but once we started to talk they opened up. Collette was quick to point out that she has a job and lived near there but believed in the cause. She hadn’t slept there every night but she was there as much as she could be when she wasn’t working. For her this wasn’t about the 99% versus the 1% this was how the two could unite. She had seen a big change since Giuliani had been in power.
We don’t talk to each other anymore. The dividing line between rich and poor is so great that we don’t care anymore about just being people. I stop now when I see garbage on the street and pick it up. I talk to people. This really is about feeling part of something, about not being alone.
I got that. I started to feel like I was getting more and more of what this is all about.
Next I sat down with David, 23 years old and from California and had spent one night there. He hadn’t known anything about this but his Mom had told him about it and he and his friends were doing a tour of the country and thought it would be cool to check it out. They all had matching red, white and blue velour track suits on and I wasn’t sure if their hair was real or they were wearing afro wigs from the 70’s.
There is no unified message here. We need higher taxes for the rich and more regulation on the financial side.
He didn’t know quite what to say after that. I wasn’t sure if he really knew why he was there or it seemed like something to be able to say he had done on his trip.
Then I saw a group all wearing blue t-shirts that had “Blue Crew” written across them. I sat down with Sean, 20 years old who was studying sociology from Cincinnati. Sean talked to me about job loss and foreclosures, about the poverty in Appalachia.
Whoever has the money wins. We need to touch hearts, to make change. This is about greed. But no one is really able to articulate the movement.
I know what I heard as I talked to each one of those protesters, I heard myself back in college thirty years ago. I heard myself saying:
I would never be like ‘them’. I would be different. The world was wrong. It wasn’t fair. It shouldn’t be like that. It doesn’t have to be like that. I would make it different.
But I didn’t. I finished college and got a job and bought in to everything I said I wouldn’t. I gave up. I forgot what I believed in.
That’s what these protesters are doing, fighting for what they believe in.
Is this a revolution?
It is certainly a voice that is getting stronger and stronger and spreading as I write this.
This is an opportunity for all of us to make change.
What if we didn’t make fear an option and chose change instead?
It is your choice, and in many ways I think that is what this movement wants to give us, a choice.
So what’s yours?
What would you do?
Would you change your job?
Go back to school?
Go on a trip?
Do something that you have always wanted to do?
Better yet do it.
We all spend a lot of time here on the computer.
Since I started The Social Effect I have done a lot of things I never thought I would do.
Things I thought I was too afraid to do is the real answer.
I have learned that there really is nothing to be afraid of.
It has also taught me that if I let go of my fears then I help others.
Givers gain. Always.
That’s all we have to do.
Why be afraid of that?
Last week for the International Day of Peace I hit the streets with a few other huggers to give away Free Hugs. For those of you who don’t know about Free Hugs, watch the below video, it explains it all.
But how did I end up giving away Free Hugs for the International Day of Peace?
In surfing the pages of Facebook I came across an event for Free Hugs for World Peace, I checked to see if it was being done in Montreal and when I didn’t see anything I said to myself, “Why not?”
It seems I keep doing that these days!
I contacted Vincent Marx who had started this initiative through his site 1 True Spirit dedicated to revealing the 1 TRUE SPIRIT that exists in every one of us, in all life, and in all things and I was off to the races.
Actually, I was off to the art store to get poster paper and felt pens.
First I launched the event on Facebook, and then the night before (yes, I am one of those people that pulled all nighter before the exam), I enlisted the help of my friend Eric to make posters with me. Well he made the posters and I watched him.
Wednesday, September 21st 2011 was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky for the International Day of Peace. I packed up the car with my posters and my meditation pillow – I had organized a MedMob (Meditation FlashMob) from 12 to 12:30 and from 12:30 to 1 PM we would give away Free Hugs.
The location was in the centre of downtown Montreal (Phillips Square across from The Bay for any of you that know the city) and after negotiating with a band that was playing a little too loud for us to meditate, and finding a spot on the pavement between the kiosks and a photography exhibit that had popped up since I had first chosen the location, a group of twenty or so of us of sat in meditation.
After the meditation, I asked for anyone who wanted to join in for the Free Hugs. Anne, Marilyn and Karen were ready to give it a hug, and we hit the streets to offer a little free love to complete strangers during a busy lunchtime in Montreal.
I hope you can see from the video (thanks Carl and Joanne) we had a lot of fun. What you can’t see is what it feels like when someone you don’t know trusts you enough to let them take you in your arms and give them a real hug. What does it feel like? It just feels right. It feels like there is no fear, no hate, no anger, that we really are all brothers and sisters, from one family, and that there is one true spirit that exists in all of us.
We did this for the International Day of Peace, but I will tell you a secret, I kept the signs. You may just see me sometime standing on the corner giving out Free Hugs. If you see me, don’t be shy, come and get one, they are free, and I promise, they don’t hurt.
And by the way, you don’t need a sign to give a hug away. Why not give someone you know a hug today, you may be surprised at how good it feels.
For information on 1 TRUE SPIRIT, click here.
AIDS is a strange disease isn’t it? It descended on the world and took so many lives back in the eighties. Many of us watched as friends died a horrible and painful death. We did not stand by quietly. Some of us stood up and marched to fight for money for new drugs. Some of us stood up and fought to teach people about prevention and what could be done to stop the spread of AIDS. Some of us stood up to stop the discrimination that went with AIDS. And some of us stood up to help people living with AIDS. Ron Farha was one of those people. With the help of his family and those in the community he started the Farha Foundation to help people less fortunate than he was so that they could live out the end of their lives in as comfortable and humane a way as possible. He did whatever he could and did not stop until he had no choice and physically he could do no more. His short-term dream was to be able to help others; his long-term dream was of course to see the end of this horrible plague.
When Ron died, there were not the drugs and organizations to help people that there are today. AIDS was a death sentence. Period. It pushed people like Ron and his family, and many others to face things they did not want to face. It taught people about life as much as it taught people about death. It separated some families and it brought others closer together. Through the constant battles with governments, pharmaceutical companies, and with the help of the medical community, our society was able to change and grow to not only help the individual living with AIDS, but to build a structure and community of organizations that now deal with prevention and long term care. Ron’s dream to help has in many ways come true, but it does not mean we can stop the work that he started.
The war of AIDS is not over. If anything, the war is getting worse. Lest we forget is a phrase that comes from a war where hundreds of thousands died. Today we are fighting a different war, a war that has claimed over 20 million souls since 1981. Lest we forget why Ron started the Farha Foundation. Lest we forget that people are still becoming HIV+ every day. Lest we forget that this war is not over. If anything, the battlefield has only grown larger as the disease has spread across the world. Most important of all, lest we forget that we can make a difference.
Today, Sunday, September 18, 2011 is ÇA MARCHE, the AIDS walk in Montreal and it starts in a few hours in Parc Emlie-Gamelin. For any of you who knew Ron, I ask you to stop for a minute, just one minute at 10:30 when the walk starts and there is a moment of silence and remember him and all the others that have fought for this cause and for all those that have died from this disease. For any of you like me, who didn’t know Ron, take that same minute to be thankful for a man who has helped so many in our community, and again, remember those we have lost.
Then, let us all take another minute to take a step to do something in this fight against AIDS, for it is a fight that we have yet to win. Talk about this disease openly and honestly, protect yourselves always, and let Ron by your inspiration, as he has been mine, and do something to prevent this preventable disease. It is not too late to come and walk with us today.
For more information on the Foundation that Ron created or to make a donation, click here: Farha Foundation
We did it Carl and I. We went out and took the photos for US versus THEM Friday morning for our group action in the INSIDE OUT Project.
We met for breakfast and stayed to have a few more cups of coffee so we didn’t have to leave. Didn’t have to start what we set out to do: take photos of the homeless.
But we did it. And it wasn’t photos of the homeless in the end. It was just photos of people. At least that was what we realized after we got going. We started with the owner of the diner where we had breakfast. She was ready to be part of this project. It made it easier. It let Carl figure out how he wanted to take the shots. And we got in the car and we headed out.
As we drove down Ste. Catherine street in Montreal we were on the look out for homeless people.
“He looks like one!”
“There – in front of the grocery store!”
We parked and got out. I carried the camera bag with the extra batteries and lenses. Something to hold, make me feel part of the experience. But I was the talker and I had to get my elevator speech down for what I was going to say.
By the time we got to the corner where I had seen the guy, he was gone. Carl took a few shots of me.
A girl walked by.
“Excuse me….we are taking photos for a project called INSIDE OUT. Have you heard of it? No? Well it was started by this guy in Paris and…..well, we are taking photos to show people that there is no difference between us and the homeless and I wondered if we could take your photo?”
“I am not homeless.”
“I know but….sure, sure….I understand. Thanks anyway.”
We get back in the car and kept going. We saw more homeless people and we parked.
I don’t have my words. I don’t understand what this is all about I realize. Not really. I thought I did, but I don’t.
We see a young guy sitting on the sidewalk with his dog.
“Hey bud, what’s up?” I say as I crouch down next to him and stick out my hand. My name is Simon, this is Carl.”
“Sebastien,” he says with a smile.
“We are taking photos of people for a project called INSIDE OUT. It was started by this guy in Paris name JR. We are going to take photos, send them off to them. They will blow them up into black and white photos that we can put up outside somewhere. They may end up on the net, in my blog, you cool with that? Can we take your photo? Just your face.”
We had the release forms in our bag.
“Sure man. Why not?”
RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW
And so we started. We walked west on Ste. Catherine and we asked people to take their photos. I got my speech down.
“Hey bud, my name is Simon, this is Carl. We are taking photos, photos of all kinds of people here in Montreal between 9:30 and 12. The name of the project is INSIDE OUT, started in Paris by a guy named JR. We want to take a photo of your face, just your face. We will send all the photos to INSIDE OUT and they will send us back big posters that we will put up somewhere for a few days. We don’t know where yet. The idea behind this is that we are all the same. Our project is called US versus THEM, comment vois-tu le monde? How do you see the world? It’s all about our attitude. Can we take your photo?”
The responses were different and the same. The people living on the street said, “Sure, no problem. Cool idea. “ They heard what we were saying. They listened. They were right there with us. Present.
Those walking down the street were afraid, distrustful: “If I knew you maybe I would.”
Then we got lucky and a few people did say yes.
Half of the photos we took are of people that live on the street. Half are of people that don’t. If you notice, I am not writing “homeless” anymore. These people aren’t homeless; they are just people. Attitude matters for me too I learned.
We continued on. We were moved by what we saw in these people’s eyes and we were excited that we were doing what we had set out to do. We were touched by all those that said yes, we had to be.
PANIC IN EMILIE-GAMELIN PARK
Then we continued east to Emilie-Gamelin park and the world changed.
We parked the car and asked the first guy sitting on the steps of the bus station, “Hey bud….”
We looked into his eyes and the ‘no’ did not surprise us. The pain we saw only hurt us.
We crossed the street to the park and that excitement changed back to fear and then panic as we looked across the grass and saw groups of twos and threes with their sleeping bags. I took a deep breath and said, “Let’s go, let’s do it.”
We went up to the first two guys and I explained what we were doing. “I think I have seen you around,” Neuron said to me. That was his name he said: Neuron. I watched as he tried to tie a scarf around his wrist, his friend looking on to see what we were all about. “Can we take your photo?”
I could only tell him the truth, “You were the first one in the park.”
Neuron was not in great shape. Neither was his friend. Neither were any of the people living in that park. Neuron didn’t say yes, he couldn’t have his photo out there like that. We kept going.
Carl and I walked around the park and we didn’t say too much to each other. We just walked and took it all in and we found it hard to breathe.
“I don’t think we can do this here,” I said.
Why was this place different?
Was it because there were so many people all living here together? I think “hurting” together would be a better way of putting it.
We stopped in front of an old man and Carl started talking to him.
“How is your day going?”
I have to stop here. I had to stop there too. I had sat down next to Chamberland on the bench and reached out to shake his hand.
“Not too good,” he said.
We didn’t explain what we were doing at first, about the project, about INSIDE OUT. It didn’t matter. Not to him. At that point I don’t think either of us thought this project really mattered to anyone.
I said, “Can we take your photo?”
“Sure, no problem.”
Carl took his photo and I turned away and looked up at the sky. If you are ever in a situation where you are going to cry, raise your eyes up to the sky and it helps to stop the tears.
I went back and gave him a couple of bucks. He hadn’t asked for it. He thanked me and smiled. Not one of the people we took a photo of asked for money. Not once.
We continued to walk through the park. The air was gone in the park for us. We walked by a series of benches. Each one filled with groups of people. Some of them were talking, some of them were just sitting. The last guy lying there, asleep, was wet from pissing himself.
“I can’t do this anymore.”
We got back in the car.
We didn’t say much on the ride back.
We drove back to Carl’s office to download the photos and I could only say to myself, “Why me?”
I am really tired of writing this blog post. I have been writing one now at this time of year since 1998. Then it wasn’t a blog, it was a letter to my friends. Then it was a fax. Then it was an e-mail. Now, for the last few years it has been a blog.
It always says the same thing:
1. Come walk with me in the AIDS walk
2. Please donate to help the Farha Foundation
3. If you have your own charity you support, then donate to them.
4. Protect yourself: HIV can happen to you.
There are over 33 million people that live with HIV throughout the world
This is not an epidemic this is a pandemic. This is not something we can ignore, put aside, or try to hide from. It is here and it is real and there is no cure. But it is preventable. We must talk about it; we must treat it like any other disease. We must forget the moral implications that surround it and we must reach out to those who have it and embrace them as much as we must ensure that everyone else knows the realities of HIV and AIDS.
Every minute a child dies from AIDS somewhere in the world
This disease is everywhere. We just don’t see it, especially in developed nations. With the stigma attached to this disease, everyone makes sure to keep it well hidden. Or most everyone. Thankfully there are people that speak up. Ron Farha was one of those people. He started the Farha Foundation. But he is only one man in one city. There are many like him all over the world who found the courage and did the same thing. If there hadn’t been men and women like Ron, we would not have the resources that we have today to help those living with HIV.
[Carl Ruscica and I made this video last year for MASKARADE 2011]
There are medications for HIV.
What does that mean to someone who has to take those pills?
What does it really mean?
I work in a clinic that practices aesthetic medicine. I don’t want to tell you how many patients we see each week coming in for treatments so that those around them won’t know that they have HIV because of the side effects from some of the drugs they take.
On Friday night I had dinner with a friend, someone that has had HIV for years and when I went to give him a hug, he said, “Not too hard.” He lives in constant pain. Chronic pain. Sure the drugs are keeping him alive but what most of us don’t understand at what cost. When I say, most of us, I should be saying: anyone out there that is still having unprotected sex and thinks that there are medications to take if you get HIV. There are, but do you want to take them everyday for the rest of your life with all of the side effects that they can have?
It doesn’t seem to matter what we do, people keep getting HIV
I have marched in the streets, and talked on the radio and done interviews in newspapers and written more letters than I care to think about. And so have many of you. And we have to keep doing it. We have to keep doing what we have been doing and finding new ways to get the message out.
So here I go again. On Sunday, September 18th, please walk with me in Ça Marche. If you would like to join our team, please click here.
If you would like to sponsor me, please click here.
If you would like to find out more about the Farha Foundation, please click here.
Last Wednesday I did something that I have wanted to do for a long time, I spent the day volunteering at Dans la rue.
What is Dans la rue?
It is an organization that helps street kids. It provides food, shelter, support and guidance when they need it most, providing a consistent source of support and giving youths the confidence to move forward and make positive changes in their lives.
Why have I wanted to do this for so long?
Because I have always felt: There but for the grace of God go I.
No, thankfully with the parents, family and friends that I have I don’t think that I could ever have ended up on the street, but I have learned through being on the board at l’Anonyme a few years ago and the habit I have of stopping and talking with street people, that there are many reasons that people end up on the street and some of them are not at all what you would think.
Get a job!
Homelessness encompasses a range of economic and social factors that have negative impact upon health and well-being. Such factors include poverty, lack of affordable housing, lack of health care supports and social supports — all of which may be understood as problems of social inequality and social exclusion. The chronic nature of these problems is perpetuated by ideological stances that are significantly different at the community, provincial and national levels. While many communities across the country are working to develop and maintain homelessness initiatives, these initiatives are difficult to sustain in the absence of adequate awareness and funding. Dealing with homelessness necessitates collective action, and truly effective collective action demands a pragmatic shift in how homelessness is viewed. With estimates between 150,000 to as many as 300,000 Canadians living on the streets, a movement beyond ideological fixations on “self-reliance” is necessary. It requires an emphasis on equality and inclusivity in the social contract, in civil society, and in the community. (Via Intraspec.ca)
Holding Back the Tears
I arrived at the Dans la rue facility in the east end of Montreal and was given the tour and the history of the place before I was put to work. Sue Medleg, the Development Co-ordinator, told me the story of how Father Emmett Johns, “Pops” – as he is known, started it all back in 1988. She walked me through the place and watched as I did all that I could to hold back the tears as I heard the stories of what they do and what kids do who end up on the street. There is nothing that I did not know or had not heard before, but it doesn’t seem to matter how often I hear these stories that it hurts, it makes me angry, and it makes me sad, and it reminds that that I can still feel.
After getting the walk through and hearing about the front-line services, I was put to work in the basement. My job was to help get ready a few thousand hotdogs that would get handed out to kids on the street between the ages of 12 and 25 (yes, I said 12) over the next week on The Van. At first it was just me, Jordan and Chris and then Mike that work there. Then, as part of how the program works, kids would come down to help out. We put on our rubber gloves and we took hotdogs and put them in buns, and put them in wrappers and then packed plastic boxes that then got stored in the fridge to be used over the next five nights when The Van went out staffed with volunteers to give out hotdogs, hot chocolate and the services Dans la rue has to help kids living on the streets.
I am not sure that I will ever eat another hotdog. I am not sure that the kids that depend on them each night really want to either.
I can’t stand the pain
For me it was just a few hours. I got pretty good at putting the hotdogs in the buns, into the wrappers and then packing the boxes. They do this every Wednesday to get ready for the week. Often there are volunteers that come in from different companies as part of initiatives to give back to the community. I was lucky as there was no group and so it was just me and the guys that work there and the kids. We talked. We sang along to the words in the music playing in the background. We talked about dogs and tattoos. They asked me if I had a tattoo and I laughed and said, “No, I couldn’t stand the pain.” They laughed with me and told me it wasn’t so bad. They talked and I listened. I fit right in standing there in my shorts and t-shirt except when it was all over I was going to get in my car and go home. For the people that work there they deal with this day in and day out. For the kids that live on the street, this is part of their life. I think it was at that point that I started to go a little numb.
At noon we took a break for lunch. We went upstairs to the cafeteria and lined up and had a burger and a baked potato. All the staff and the kids who are doing some work there get to eat first. Then they open the doors and the kids from the street come in through the side door and they can get a hot meal. I sat and talked with the staff and watched as the kids came in. They were dirty and tattooed and pierced and hungry. They lined up and they got their food. They sat with their friends and they were polite and respectful of those around them and they ate. I watched as a girl took her baked potato, wrapped it up and put it in her pocket for later. I got a little number.
How long is long when you are living on the street?
We sat and we talked, Chris, Jordan, and Mike. I asked a lot of questions. I asked what was the hardest thing they did. The answer was always a version of, “can’t give enough or can’t help enough.” I heard a lot of caring and a lot of compassion in a place where it must be easy to get hard, to put the walls up to protect yourself.
Then I remembered a kid I had met a few years back one night when I was out on the bus with l’Anonyme. It was a Sunday night about 3 AM and this kid had got on the bus and he was a mess. He had piercing blue eyes that I remember to this day, and dreads, blond dreads. He was upset because his best friend had just died of a drug overdoes. What shocked me was not that his friend had died, but that this kid had a friend that he was so close to and he was so upset about. I didn’t think that people that lived on the streets really had friends. I realized, that I didn’t think that people on the streets were people.
I asked if anyone knew him, I still remembered his name. “It depends who’s asking,” a young woman said who had just sat down beside me. I explained who I was and why I was there. “Yes, he’s still around, he works sometimes in the garden project that I look after. He is doing okay.” I had met him back in 2006 and he is still on the street. That is a long time to still be on the streets.
Don’t you see it?
I have an innocent belief that deep down inside each of us there is a good person full of love. I believe that with all my heart and you will never convince me to think otherwise. What I was reminded of in seeing these kids and in listening to the staff that work at Dans la rue is that for many of these kids, it is pretty hard to see good. Their lives have taken so many twists and turns that it is hard to believe that there is good in anything or anyone. What hit me the hardest is that they very often cannot see that good exists in themselves.
Imagine that for whatever reason, and there are so many, that you are a kid on the street. It may start with a feeling of freedom those first few days, freedom from the situation you were living in, until the money runs out. Until you aren’t able to eat when you are hungry, or have a place to sleep and then you resort to things you never thought you would do. Things that no child should ever have to do. But you do them. And then the good is gone. And it is very hard to get it back. Trust becomes a word you don’t know the meaning of. You become someone you don’t know anymore. You have to hide that person that you used to know. The person that had a chance. That knew deep down inside that there was good, in yourself and in those around you. But that is gone now.
Back to work
We went back down after lunch and we finished getting all the hotdogs ready. There were a few more kids that came down to help. We cleaned up and my day as a volunteer was over. I was going to go home. The people that worked there were going to continue on and then go back tomorrow. And next Wednesday they would be packing hot dogs with someone else. The kids were going to go back on the streets for now. Or some of them that had started to get involved in the different programs of music, or art, or the school that Dans la rue has, would be back and start to build a future. That is what Dans la rue does, it gives any kid who wants it, a chance again, and a real chance.
As I was leaving I got a tour of The Van and saw where all those hotdogs will get passed out. I saw where the kids sit and talk and get warm in the winter and have a hot chocolate. I saw the window at the back of The Van where the street people over 25 get served because Pops knows that you can’t refuse anyone in need. Or at least he can’t. And perhaps that is why this organization works, and these kids trust it and the people that work there. I know I certainly do.
I walked back to my car now completely numb with no real idea of how to deal with what I had just seen. Except then I remembered the hope that was there everywhere I turned. It was there if you wanted to see it, to take it, to have it. And there were people willing to help you see it if you couldn’t.