By: CAITLIN SALVINO
Saturday, February 15th, 2014
At 7:00 this morning I began a program that I know will fundamentally change how I view my own city and life.
It was Carleton’s Alternative Spring Break Program. This is a week-long program, based on community service and learning where I, along with six other participants and four team leaders, will be volunteering at various organizations for Ottawa’s homeless.
When I woke up this morning I was extremely excited. Unlike my experience last year in Ecuador, where I was travelling to view the tragic conditions of people around the world, this year I will be volunteering and seeing the tragic conditions of people in my own city.
Throughout this week I hope to learn not only the experiences of Ottawa’s homeless, but also why we live in a society where these experiences exist. I’m excited to interact with the various organizations who are doing so much to help people who are struggling around Ottawa.
So today at 7:00 a.m. I met the rest of my group at Carleton University and we began our bus journey to Shepherds of Good Hope in downtown Ottawa.
Upon our arrival, we were immediately welcomed in with the program organizers, who were surprised at the size of our group. Within minutes we were given jobs to do to prepare lunch for the visitors, who would begin arriving around 11:30 a.m.
In two hours we prepared pasta, soup, salad, dessert and sandwiches for our visitors.
I was surprised that there were so many donations from Tim Horton’s and Starbucks.
This was great to see — today I find we live in a very wasteful world, where often food that could still be eaten is thrown out. It’s really nice to see that we have stores that are avoiding this unnecessary waste and giving away great desserts to those who cannot always afford them.
After the meal was made we proceeded into the little chapel in the Shepherds of Good Hope facility and had a group prayer and hymn.
Although not everyone in the group was Catholic, we were all extremely respectful and greatly appreciated another volunteer who led a prayer for us.
We then proceeded to eat the meal that we prepared for our visitors. The food provided was fantastic! We even accommodated vegetarians, like myself.
I believe the quality of food the Shepherds of Good Hope provided reflected the wide-held belief by this organization and others that all humans deserve to be treated with dignity.
Just because some of the visitors are less fortunate does not mean that they deserve less of a quality meal than others. The wonderful meal provided by Shepherds contributed to making the visitors feel more respected and contributed to shifting my own personal view about them.
At 11:30 a.m. the doors opened and visitors began to enter to get their meals. In the two and a half hours of operation, more than 200 people received meals from the Shepherds kitchen.
It was individuals from all walks of life, all ages — I was surprised by the amount of youth — all genders, including trans-gender individuals, and all races.
While poverty may be more predominant in certain groups, in reality poverty knows no boundaries.
The visitor who resonated the most me with was a woman who began to ask another participant, Hannah, and I what school we were attending.
When we responded that we go to Carleton, she laughed and replied,“I gave all my money to that school.”
She went on to explain that she had actually attended Carleton and completed a degree but was unable to maintain a job because, in her words, “It is just too hard to be a female engineer, too hard.”
There’s more to every story, but a five minute conversation with this woman completely destroyed all pre-conceptions I have ever had about “homeless people” in Ottawa.
Sometimes I, along with many others, try not to think about the homeless in our city or reasons why they become homeless.
Many in our society believe that the reason why people become homeless is because of their own doing, telling ourselves that homeless people should have worked harder or gone to school.
This woman is a living example that our preconceptions of homelessness can be wrong. Not only did she get an education, but she worked hard, too.
In that moment I realized that the less fortunate or “homeless” in Ottawa are a lot more like me than I previously thought.
It’s scary, too.
How much is really protecting me, or anyone else, from becoming homeless? If I become unlucky, I could be relying on these same programs, just like the people I met today.
This is the reason I volunteer. I always know that if I was in that situation, I would want someone to help me and volunteer for me.
I was surprised that in only a few hours I still learned so much. I’m excited for the rest of the week, because I know by listening to the stories of the people we are helping that I’ll grow as a person and continue to change my personal view on “homelessness” in Ottawa.
Hopefully I’ll be able to change the opinions of others by sharing my own experience, and inspire them to go out and get this experience themselves.