When I was younger, I would see people on the streets who looked ragged and scruffy. I never could understand why they looked the way they did. I may have seemed naïve to the troubles that so many people face, but I believe now that I did not want to know of the troubles and horrible problems some people have to struggle through. I have decided that as a community we need to become aware, for that is the first step to making an impact. When I was in third grade, I learned about a girl named Hannah. She started a homeless shelter at an age not much older than myself. As I learned more and more about her, I felt a desire to experience the positive feelings she must have had from what she accomplished by helping so many. So, I signed up for YALP because I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity so that I could have that extra push of inspiration that would lead me to my goals. Just as the conference did.
Like many others, I joined to learn more about poverty and see what I can do to help out this social issue. We learned about perspectives, how we see situations (the impact of open-mindedness) and what we can do to help address poverty.
Taylor: Anawim House
During my first breakout session with Terri Edison-Brown from Anawim Companions Society, he really emphasized that poverty is not about them and us, but a problem that concerns all of society. I also learned some facts about poverty, including that 20% of our population is living below the poverty line and two-thirds of the homeless are men.
Aysha: Bridges for Women
The main thing I got out of the conference is that we have social stereotypes that we make on impulse. I became metacognitive of the broad strokes I paint over certain groups. This message came from two women from the Bridges for Women association, which uplifts women’s spirits after traumatic experiences and sudden crashes to below the poverty line.
Taylor: Shane Koyczan
I think most of the students who attended the YALP conference would agree that the best part was listening to the keynote speakers. Shane Koyczan was the first guest of honour who shared with us some of his inspiring work. Although we thought being quiet would be the polite thing to do, Shane took it as though we were zombies because we barely spoke a word. He encouraged us to speak up during his presentation because during his own childhood Shane did not have a voice so when we seemed as if we did not either he recited another spoken word piece of his called, “This is My Voice.” Another part of the conference that interested me was when Rev. Allen Tysick said that we could go out with him to wake up the people on the streets just like he does every morning at 5:15 am (so the police do not wake them up).
Aysha: Marc Kielburger
The most inspirational speaker I heard was keynote speaker Mark Kielburger. Mark co-founded the organization Free the Children. He brought a few points of brilliance to the conference, which I have sculpted into a new inspiration for myself. His first point was to Drink Tea, meaning sit and talk with a person as well as understand their values before you judge them. His second point of inspiration was an equation. Gift (your talent, which we all have) + an Issue (a topic of which you have passion for) = Change. But one of the most interesting moments of the day were the stories of his impact around the world that he told us. Then he left us with the advice that became the winds of change for him. Start local and then go global, by having one local issue and one global issue YOU can be the change. At the end of his presentation he left two words hanging in all our minds: “Have Courage”. Today those words still linger within me as I hope they now do with you.
This experience developed my empathy and awareness for local poverty. I have learned that I can’t change people or this whole world, but I can change my actions and start by creating awareness in my local community, just like what Marc said. I don’t try to look away from the beggars on the street but I smile and say hello, because I learned that we all want to feel special. I now look at the world with a gaze of gratitude but also awareness.
I, on the other hand, find it hard sometimes to look them in the eye because I don’t know if there is anything I can do to change their lives. But after listening to Rev. Allen, I learned that not looking at them is one of the worst things you can do; because it makes them feel invisible, unimportant. So just like I was told in my last breakout session, I am going to start small by smiling and making eye contact and hopefully sometime in the near future I will be able to go and have a conversation with them and spare the change lying in my pocket.