I grew up in a single parent home where we knew of, and took advantage of, every social care that was possibly available to us. I am only slightly embarrassed by this, as the circumstances in which I was raised were not under my control in the slightest.
Sometimes this meant living on “welfare”, and often it meant regular visits to the food bank, breakfast programs, snack programs, sponsor a kid for camp programs, Christmas gift programs for underprivileged kids, and other services offered by a mixture of the government, the school system, the Boys and Girls club and the community, among many others.
Sometimes this meant calling food companies to complain about a product to get free merchandise in return. Sometimes this meant writing cheques we knew were going to bounce. Sometimes it meant trying to back claim on strange government forms because we thought we might be somehow entitled to money from years ago.
There was a while when we would have a yard sale every weekend, just to get some spare change.
Until we left the city around the age of 12, we were among the percentage of people who were likely poorest in the country – and yet we always had food, always had healthcare, and always had a bed.
Being children who grew up in poverty, on social assistance, and on strange looks from family members and teachers, we were used to being seen as different.
What I have learned from those years, and from my now middle class, educated, and average life – is that there is always someone around the corner to lend a helping hand. Whether it’s one of many, many government programs, whether it’s an estranged family member who feels guilty or even just generous, whether it’s a kind neighbor, or whether it’s the local church…there is help to be had and people willing to do good for those in need.
Between the kindness and generosity of everyday Canadians, the incredible social programs our government provides, the education system, the church, and the overall culture of the people around us – we as Canadians basically couldn’t have it any better. Whether you were born into the poorest of families, or the richest of families, you’ve still got opportunities. You can get a loan to go to school, you can make your own choices once you become an adult, you can choose to serve whichever God you like, you can be totally disabled, or entirely lazy. No matter who you are, you have every opportunity to make something of yourself, and at very least, you will at least have bed to lay in, and food on your table.
Soon after my father was born he went entirely deaf. Due to circumstances in the 1950’s he somehow went under the radar and his parents thought he had a mental condition. It wasn’t until he was 19 that he was diagnosed, finally given hearing aids and sent to a school for the deaf. This means he never learnt to read and his communication skills are hugely impacted. It affects his everyday life now in ways you wouldn’t possibly guess. He has had a very tough life. He lives on a government disability program and always has. The man does not have much. At the end of each month, after paying his bills, he is lucky enough to have $100 to spare – and he is the best budgeter I have ever met. The point is that he still has a $100 to spare – and he is grateful. Not the same can be said for many people in similar situations, even though our government chooses to support them and many others in various other situations in this country. It is not a lot of money, but the fact that we live in a country where you are able to support yourself without having to work (if absolutely necessary) is utterly incredible.
Some see it as a right. I see it as a privilege. I am able to say this because in my life I have known difficulty. I have seen what my government can do, and does do for its people. I have lived in other countries, travelled to many countries, and known many people who were born and raised under very different circumstances. It truly is a blessing to be here. I count my blessings.
There are some countries where babies are aborted just because they are a girl. In some countries you will be disowned or even killed if you try to leave the religion you were born into. There are places in this world that believe you should not know what’s happening around you, where they monitor every single piece of news that is printed. There are places on this planet which are so underdeveloped and poor that children die every few seconds because of hunger. There are countries where, no matter how hard you work, how hard to try, how long you save for, you will never go to school, never own your own business, and never get to choose the path for your own life. There are countries not far away that do not allow freedom of speech. There are people right now who have no bed. There are people who have worked harder and longer, saved longer, did more, and tried harder than you or I will ever try for something in our entire lives for anything – and yet they are still in the same place, doing the same thing, surrounded by the same tragedy they were born into.
This is not to mention the places in the world where children are beheaded and women are raped in front of their husbands because they happen to believe in different God from another person.
The thing is, it’s not their fault they were born there. It’s also not your fault, or mine.
It’s also not our fault we were born here. Should we feel guilty? No. Should we feel grateful? Yes. Should we feel entitled? No.
We as Canadians (and other first world countries) are the luckiest 1% on the entire planet Earth. So why do so many of us feel we “need to take care of our own” so badly? Are not all humans “our own”? Are the people who are born in this country so much more important than other humans that were born into such terrible circumstances? Are we so far deep into our bubble of first world comforts that we can’t see that these people we discard as “other”, feel the same deep, drowning, horrible emotions about the scenarios in which they find themselves that we would find when we are in trouble? Who do we think we are?
It is so easy to compare ourselves to those who have more. We’re always looking up, always looking ahead. What’s next? How can I better myself? And though there is nothing wrong with the notion of become better, or doing more, I find it often comes hand in hand with the dismissal of those around us. Those who have less.
“We’ve earned what we have”
“I’ve worked my whole life for this”
“I paid into this”
“I deserve this”
“I have a right to be here”
…as if every person who is “below us” or wasn’t born here hasn’t worked hard and doesn’t deserve a good life. What about all the work they did before their homes were possibly blown up or their families were murdered?
We forget that there are many men and women who died for the rights and freedoms we so easily partake in. We forget that many have earned, deserve, and should have rights to these very same things and yet because they did not win the birth lottery, they are immediately disqualified from the luxuries we receive.
It is by no merit of our own that we were born where we were. We made no choice in the matter. It was luck of the draw.
I often try to imagine what my life would look like in another time, or in another place. What choices would be available to me? What would I want for my life? I can’t possibly imagine working in a rice field from the time I was a child, knowing full well that all of my days on earth would look exactly the same no matter what I did. I can’t imagine getting a curable disease where it was almost certainly a death sentence because of lack of a healthcare system. I can’t imagine being forced into marrying my uncle at the age of 11 years old, having to bear his children, and know that it was physically impossible for me to ever escape the life I was forced into. My mind couldn’t comprehend the emotions I would feel to see my children taken from me or my village burnt down, and then having to live with that – all the while fleeing for my own life.
My heart aches for the world around me. There is pain, death and suffering everywhere we turn – and yes – even in our own country. But I dream of a world where this simply isn’t the case. And though I know that we won’t achieve world peace anytime soon, I also know that we as people, as a human race, are better than that.
We are capable of incredible love. It’s been proven.
We are capable of practical, real, life altering love. Not the kind that you feel. Not the kind that we write about on canvas prints and hang on our shabby chic walls. Love that does! The kind that fills tummies, clothes the naked, and comforts the grieving. I believe that we are able to sacrifice our own comforts to see the needs of others met. I believe that one life is no more valuable than another. We must not let fear overcome us. If no one ever leant a helping hand for fear of its repercussions where would we be? We have made it this far as a human race, I think we have it in us to do what is necessary and love those around us, to love those who might make us afraid. That’s what would really make us great.
That’s what would make us brave.
Photo credit: Yumi Mariane Momoi via Foter.com / CC BY