“I haven’t had a place to sleep in over two years.” My heart sank when I heard those words. Sitting in front of me was a homeless woman with dark, haggard face with sullen eyes. Her clothes were dirty and falling apart, and her shoes were picked up off the side of street. The one thing I noticed was her cute straw hat that had a small red ribbon tied on the side. “It was the last thing my mother wore before she died. It’s the only thing I have left.”
She was the first homeless woman that I ever had a deep conversation with. She told me she came to Canada with her sister and mother after her father passed away in China. A few years after coming to Canada, both her sister and mother died, leaving her to battle her illness alone. Since then, she has become homeless.
I came to meet this woman through a volunteering program at my school – “Feed the Hungry”. My alarm would go off at 6:00 am every Saturday morning. While most people were still enjoying their weekend sleep in, I would drag myself out of bed and begin my 30-minute commute downtown, as it was still dark and the sun had not risen above the horizon.
I felt the homeless woman’s pain through her story. Coming from a well-to-do family, not only do I have food on the table, a roof over my head or clothes to put on, I also enjoy the privilege of wearing designer clothes, using my own washroom, and getting to choose whatever I want to eat. But this homeless woman would have to wait hours to get whatever the food was provided. She would sleep on the streets, and do not even have a single family member with her.
This past year I was assigned a privileged position of serving at the window, which gave me the opportunity to have a direct contact with those who relied on the food we served to get by. I’ve found this opportunity deeply rewarding, but it also left me grappling with mixed emotions from time to time.
It was hard to see these people going through such harsh living conditions. I remember one man brought his six-year-old son with him. Seeing such a small child, I secretly gave the two a bigger portion of food to them. Tears in gratitude were streaming down his face that left me feeling both sad and happy.
Most people I served always show their brightest and happiest smile. They would always say things such as “Good Morning!” and gave their big thanks for the meal. Some would even crack a joke and start up a conversation. It was those people that made those dark mornings just a little bit brighter.
在璀璨霓虹和摩天大楼的反衬下，繁华的市区更显光彩活力。但是在这绚丽妩媚的形象背后，也隐藏着这座城市黑暗丑陋的一面，那就是处在社会底层的流浪阶层。通过参加“Feed the Hungry”志愿者活动，我震惊地发现在这个富裕而发达的国家里所藏匿着的流浪人士的世界，这个一直饱受世人歧视的世界。很多人认为流浪人士都是不想工作的懒惰者，认为他们不是吸毒就是酗酒，认为他们是自愿流落街头。但实际上，在我服务过的数百名流浪人士中，无论他们是年老还是年幼，是华裔还是白人，许多人并非自愿选择流浪，而命运多舛使他们被逼无奈。
The colour and liveliness given off by a noisy downtown was added by the neo lights and shadow-casting skyscrapers. But behind this bright, beautiful image was the dark and ugly side of the city: the homeless population. This Feed the Hungry program has led me to a shocking discovery of a homeless world in this rich, developed country -- a world that is plagued by a stigma and prejudice that homeless people are lazy and don’t want to work, that they use drugs and abuse alcohol, and that they choose to become homeless. But in fact, among the hundreds of people I’ve served, no matter old or young, Chinese or Western, many did not make the choice of becoming homeless. They were just unfortunate.
Even though my community service required by the school is over, to this day I continue my service at Feed the Hungry. Through this program I’ve met various kinds of people—from the funniest to the sweetest to the saddest. They’ve taught me that homeless is not a choice and that for the plight they were in, they each have their own story to tell.
“No one even gives a damn about me, they look at me like I’m just a piece of trash. They don’t understand that I didn’t choose to live like this,” the Chinese woman’s words echo in my mind as I woke up in the wee hours of a Saturday, starting another busy morning of serving the unfortunates.
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