Shakira Miracle, Day 4

These last few days have been eye opening in profound ways. I learned things about myself, the social system, and the truth about poverty. I’ll start with myself. I learned that I am not suffering by drinking the work coffee. There is a Keurig generously provided by United Way of the Fraser Valley, who also provide an office space for Vibrant, their kitchen space and the very cup you see in the photo. In addition, staff members who are coffee drinkers anonymously buy Kcups from their own pockets and share them with all. The coffee tastes just fine. The United Way lives out their mission everyday, even within the walls of their own office space.

Another thing I learned about myself: it turns out I eat an additional meal everyday I have dubbed ‘Pinner’: the meal I partake in as I Prepare Dinner. Who knew I inhaled the same amount of calories while preparing the meal as are on my plate during the meal itself?! I made it through each day on my strict meal plan until the time for Pinner came along. My stomach turned, ached; I even felt lightheaded, headachy, and manic at times. I was opening the fridge and cabinet doors, searching for food. I would reach into the pot to grab something to eat then catch myself and nearly come to tears. This Challenge has opened my eyes to the amount of mindless eating I do simply because a. I should probably eat earlier in the evening, but more importantly b. I have such an abundance of food in my house. Imagine those on Welfare who work in the food industry! Imagine having to put in a nightshift, forgetting to eat or not having anything and then having to work surrounded by food.

The most profound thing I have learned about myself: I am so judgmental. I judge people all the time, based on: appearance, second hand information (rather than facts and figures), traditions, etc. I can just hear those who know me saying out loud as they read this, “Gimme a break Shakira. You are the most non-judgmental person I’ve ever met.” Well, I hate to pull myself down from that pedestal, but I am a human being like everyone else. The danger with judgment is that it presumes the person doing it has all of the facts, is able to empathize in absolute terms, and is STILL incapable of making the same decision(s). Well, that sounds a lot like God to me. Since beginning this Challenge, EVERY time someone has engaged me in this discussion topic from the perspective that there shouldn’t be a welfare system, the statements offered as facts were in fact opinions based on no firsthand knowledge or experience. By the end of the conversation, it was realized that this subject is deeply complicated, misunderstood, and in need of more truth from lived experience.

On that note, here are some facts about life on welfare and poverty in BC I’ve learned:

– 185,000 people in BC rely on welfare; nearly 4% of BC’s population. Of those, 35% are children and 62% are people with disabilities. You read that right.

– It has been near this level since 2009, following the 2008 recession.

– In order to apply for welfare you have to have exhausted all other sources of income: savings, RRSP, family, and friends.

– The application form has 90 online pages and after filling it out you have to wait 5 weeks for the first payment. Approximately 50% of all applicants never receive any money.

– Food banks were established in BC in 1982 as ‘temporary.’ That was 34 years ago.

– People in poverty are ill more often and die, on average, 10 years younger than people who are not poor.

– Poverty costs BC over $8 billion dollars a year. A full poverty reduction program – including raising welfare and the minimum wage, building social housing, and a provincial childcare program – would cost approximately $4 billion, saving $4 billion a year.

– BC is the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction plan.

So no judgment here, just the facts. I’m learning something about facts over judgment; facts lead to action and judgment leads to inaction.

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