Barb Ryeburn, Day 7

The Food Challenge is Over: Feeling Extremely Privileged

The last few days of the Welfare Food Challenge were easier than I’d thought they would be. Although I was low in energy and went to bed early each night, in the back of my mind, I knew I was almost done and that on Tuesday, I would be able to eat and drink whatever and whenever I wanted.

I finished the challenge last night. It felt wonderful to wake up to a latté and Greek yogurt for breakfast and to know that I can join my colleagues for lunch today and participate in the meal celebrating a friend’s Canadian citizenship tonight. But at the same time, I have mixed feelings because I know that for many people depending upon social assistance, their week of inadequate eating isn’t over. Today is just another day. It makes me feel sad and angry that in our wealthy province, people can’t afford to get enough to eat.

This experience has made me think about how privileged and fortunate I am to be in a position where I don’t ever have to worry about meeting my basic daily needs. I know that it is a mixture of luck and privilege that has allowed me to find myself in a situation in which I have never needed to apply for social assistance.

Many factors have contributed to the comfortable position in which I find myself.

  • I am privileged to be born into a family in which both parents were able to attend university and obtain well paying jobs. All my basic needs were met as a child, which allowed me to be successful at school. My parents paid for my post secondary education and supported me financially while I studied in France and Quebec. As a result, at my first job interview, I succeeded in obtaining employment as a French immersion teacher.
  • I am privileged to be brought up in a loving family in which no one experienced any form of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Exposure to any form of abuse could have impacted on my emotional and mental health, limiting my access to education and employment.
  • I am privileged to be in a relationship with a loving, supporting partner who was committed to sharing the responsibility of raising our three children. This allowed me to pursue my career as a part time teacher without having to worry about finding and paying for quality day care.
  • I am privileged that, as a descendent of European colonizers, my culture, language and family traditions are valued and protected. I have never faced any obstacles based on my ancestry that stood in the way of achieving success in my education or career.
  • I am privileged not to have experienced any mental health challenges that might have limited my success in my studies or career.
  • I am privileged to have an employer and union that allowed me to take a paid leave and follow a gradual return to work plan when I became ill with rheumatoid arthritis. In many other workplaces, I would have simply lost my job.

If any of these privileges had been absent in my life, I probably would not find myself in the comfortable position that I am today. Any of us could find ourselves on social assistance if our circumstances suddenly changed. Surely then, we need to stop treating welfare recipients as second class citizens and find a way to ensure that everyone can be safe in knowing that they will have access to funds allowing them to live a decent, dignified life. No one deserves to have to see their children go to bed hungry. If you haven’t done so already, please consider signing the petition to raise the welfare rates.

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