On a dreary, foggy day, a charter bus full of 57 Global Citizen Year Fellows tore through the Mission and Tenderloin neighborhoods of San Francisco. In an attempt to simulate urban poverty, Global Citizen Year provided each Fellow with only $5 and two other weary souls to venture through some of San Francisco’s most impoverished neighborhoods. Needless to say, these few hours on South Van Ness and Mission Street are nothing compared to the realities that people must face each day – we were wide-eyed high school graduates eager to learn respectfully without being condescending.
After trekking through the unfamiliar blocks of San Francisco, my group found itself at the Canon Kip Senior Center. This agency is one of eleven organizations that belong to the Episcopal Community Services of San Francisco. Through the graciousness of the employees there, we were able to have conversations with the Center’s clients. I had a conversation with a man I will call Adam, who talked with great animation about the Center’s services. He was able to get lunch every day, learn new skills, and even do tae kwon do. Nothing, Adam said, could have been made better about the Center. Everything about the Center seemed to run smoothly and everyone seemed to be served. But just minutes after our conversation, I saw a man who did not have his meal ticket and was denied a free lunch. His only guarantee was that he could come back the next day at 8:30 to wait for lunch ticket. Such is the transient nature of poverty in San Francisco.
At the end of the day, we all debriefed our experiences on the increasingly gentrified streets of the Mission and the affectionately named “Tough Luck” neighborhood of the Tenderloin. As with most of our discussions, we attempted to relate our few hours in “poverty” with our experiences in Ecuador, Senegal, and Brazil next week. Here are some questions that I continue to grapple with throughout this training and expect to dive into in Brazil. How do we learn about poverty while being considerate? How do we frame questions to get the most out of our conversations? What are the causes of poverty and what can we do to prevent and end it? I can’t wait to delve into these questions when I arrive next week.