While other families brought their old clothing to either a homeless shelter or a secondhand store, my mom brought them to her job. Our clothing, like many other family’s clothing, was donated to homeless families, yet in our situation, there was no middleman. Instead, my mom gave the clothing directly to her clients: homeless families. My first memories of feeling empathy are from times mom came home with news that a girl was ecstatic about receiving the turtleneck I had refused to wear, or that a boy proudly gave a fashion show of his new backpack (a backpack I had deemed too old) to the interns at the office. The six year old girl lived in an apartment that burned down, and her single mom could not afford to rent another place or to buy new belongings for her and her brother. The boy had a sister with cancer. She could not get proper medical care from the country she lived in, so the family collected all of their earnings to fly to Boston, where she could receive care.
This story embodies two large aspects of who I am based on my past. I have cared about social justice and advocating for change since I was very young. I remember not only troubling myself over the stories of people who could not afford a roof over their head or food on their table, but also wanting to create a better future for families who faced homelessness. How could I stop another girl or boy from going through similar struggles of constant instability? I didn’t solely want to help the victims of inequality. I wanted to stop the constant occurrence of more people finding themselves in poverty. Another part of this story is that I have heard of poverty, but never truly seen it. When I went to my moms office, I walked through the waiting room where homeless families waited; I seldom even glanced their way. On the street, when I see people asking for money, I at most smile and say that I don’t have any change to give. And at my job, where my peers come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, I again hear the stories but have never seen the pain and hardship through my own eyes.
Empathy can only go so far without experience. If I want to help make change systemically, I have to understand the cultural, interpersonal, and personal aspects of different cultures and socioeconomic levels. I need to see what happens when a girl isn’t allowed to go to school, instead of blindly advocating for education solving inequality. This is not to say I will truly understand the hardships of my host family and town because I will always know that I have a nice home to return to, but it will be a clearer window than I have now.
I want to learn a lot this year, specifically in how to make change in an effective way through my apprenticeship and other activities in my community. It is necessary for me to understand how to help the disenfranchised without dehumanizing and how to observe long before I start to judge. Yet I am also excited for truly personal reasons, if not even more eager for my future growth. I am happy to take a breather from a life filled with fast paced anxiety and learn how to be my best self. At my job this summer, my boss told me she could tell I was on a quest for truth. I hope this year brings me farther to that truth through hardships, love, advocacy, reflection and understanding. Ciao for now!