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Think We – Day 6

September 28, 2010

In the week leading up to Free the Children‘s We Day, I will be posting one reason each day why I “think WE.” This is day six.

When I was in junior high, my youth group spent an afternoon in downtown Ottawa that changed the way I look at local poverty.

It was mid-December, that time of year when the snow doesn’t melt when it reaches the ground, and Christmas carols are inescapable. We spent a few hours window shopping in the Rideau Centre. I’m usually a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl, but I have a weakness for pretty dresses and skirts. This is especially true around Christmas time, when shops are filled with shimmering gowns. I never buy any, but I do love to look at them. As we shopped, we were told to pretend we had $500 to spend. We were asked to make a list of the gifts we would buy for ourselves. This was before any of us were interested in laptops and iPods, so that $500 stretched pretty far. We imagined our Christmas morning, unwrapping all of these wonderful gifts.

We finished up as the sun was setting. I remember starting to feel a little hungry; I was looking forward to dinner at home. Our group headed outside to look at the strings of lights hung around the downtown core.  As we wandered through the streets, passing restaurants and a fleeting gust of warm air as someone exited a building as we passed, we were asked to imagine that we didn’t have a home to return to that night. We only had the clothes we were wearing – no money, no shelter. Where would we go? What would we eat? Where would we sleep that night? I was cold, I was hungry, and the food cooking in the restaurants we were passing smelled impossibly delicious.

Suddenly, I looked at the people huddled on sidewalks or in alcoves trying to escape the wind in an entirely different way. I had always been aware of poverty, I had experienced hunger, I had been cold. But I had never known what it felt like to have nowhere to go.  I knew that I would be returning home in an hour, where I would be greeted with a warm meal, a comfortable bed, and my family. Just as I had imagined a world in which I had a spare $500 to spend solely on myself for Christmas, I began to imagine what it must be like for the homeless people I was passing on the street. They were no longer a nuisance, they were no longer a statistic – they were individuals, each with their own story.

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