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It’s sunny, temperate, and warm out today. Although Seattle and the Northwest in general are known for rain and inclement weather, if I had not known that, I never would have guessed it from what I’ve experienced during my short time here. It’s pretty difficult to think about how different things would be in the winter months, especially for those living here in poverty or homelessness. It’s hard to think that somebody’s well-being could be so greatly affected by something that comes down to chance like the weather. Many of us just simply turn up the heat when it’s cool or switch the a/c on when it’s hot, while there are thousands of people who must live every day at the mercy of things like the weather, because they have only minimal ways to control their comfort.
Just yesterday, I had a brief conversation with someone on the street I had bought a Real Change paper from, and he was telling me part of his story. Born into a poor family, he never really had the opportunity to learn in school. He never finished school, and worked on a farm for most of his life growing up. That’s was how he scraped by in life, until chronic back problems forced him on a bus into the streets of Seattle. Why did he end up here? His individual health, something he never expected to be such a problem so early on. A bit of bad weather that ended up changing everything. No matter what decisions good or bad people have made in their lives, how can you look down on another person for having bad luck? The line that separates the impoverished from those with the means is very fine, and sometimes it just takes a slight push of misfortune to be tossed across it into a bad situation.
Something I’ve learned here is to never make assumptions about people; no matter how much you think you know about the world or about a certain group of people or how good you are at reading conversations. I’ve learned that if food is a human right, then assumptions only serve to deny that right to certain individuals who may just have been caught in an inclement storm of misfortune like we get caught in a strong winter downpour sometimes. If food is a right, then who am I, as a well-fed and healthy individual, to judge who gets it or not?
I still know very little to nothing about the individuals that come to the food bank. It’s kind of disconcerting to me that at work, I know the names so many of our supporters and donors and twitter followers and news contacts, but I don’t know the names of anybody who pass through the line. It’s weird that I know so many statistics and stories about poverty or homelessness or hunger, yet I don’t know the names or stories of the people we serve. As an individual who strives for human connection and personal stories, I often have a hard time finding compassion for those who I know nothing about beyond the fact that they need to use Northwest Harvest as a resource for survival. Five weeks in, I’ve realized that’s the only point that matters though. This experience has been about learning to serve somebody with whom my only connection with is that they are also a human being. No questions asked.
In a small office space, typing away at the computer for hours and checking emails and writing this, it’s easy to get lost in the very straightforward process task-completing and working on my individual projects. My experience could definitely just be one where I work in my own sphere, doing the things I’m told to do, and not minding anything else around me. I could just be an intern, learn all the things I need to learn, and contribute in all the ways I need to, and I would come out of this a little more informed of how things work in the world, how an organization is run, and how to communicate with people more effectively. However, I came into the experience expecting to be challenged not just a little bit, but a lot. And so I’ve had taken it upon myself to seek out opportunities to grow and apply myself outside of the requirements I have for work.
Part of this has been talking to others, different friends and colleagues whom I interact with on a consistent basis. A face-to-face conversation about a social justice issue like hunger can be challenging on so many levels, mainly because every individual cares to a different extent and every individual has a different opinion on how people should act in different situations. I am naturally disinclined to care about people I don’t know, or causes that seem very irrelevant to me. I’m admittedly apathetic when it comes to learning about the problems of the world. However, I’ve found that the more I know about an issue, whether it’s through friends who have inspired me to expand my horizons, experiences that I’ve been through, or literature that I’ve read, the more I care about it.
The more I know about hunger, the more I am driven to have conversations that challenge both me and those around me to think about the world in a different manner, and to think about the world from the lens of someone other than ourselves. In the end, that’s the only thing I can expect to do – present the facts and my own opinions about an issue, and let others decide what they want to do. I just hope that I can talk about my work, DukeEngage, and what I’ve learned this summer in a clear and coherent manner; it’s a challenge, but one I look forward to each and every day as I finish out my summer here in Seattle and head back to school.
( Seattle/Events/Travel Blog: phoenixflips.tumblr.com)