Solidarity, Not Charity!
flickr photo shared by dkantoro under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license
“It’s not that people are bad, but if we make eye contact, or engage in conversation, then we have to admit they exist and that we might have a basic human need to care. But it’s so much easier to simply close our eyes and shield our hearts to their existence.”
Most of us has have encountered people in the streets at some point in our lives, whether homeless or simply a marginalised minority group such as Roma people. The “underclass”, “the unwanted”, “the dregs of society”...We see them, we pass by them, some of us toss a coin or two, while others simply avert their gaze.
But how many of us have actually dared talk to them? How many of us acknowledge them as human beings by greeting them in the morning or acknowledging their existence with a simple nod?
In this activity, we are reminded that these marginalised people are not “charity cases”, but human beings equal to us. We will try to show solidarity with them by talking to them as friends.
Individual or group / Experiential
1 hour / Unlimited
To connect with marginalised people as our equals
To change our perceptions on marginalised people on the streets
Research nearby shelters for homeless people, offer to volunteer as a way to familiarise yourself with marginalised groups in your area. Alternatively, you can simply have a walk in your local area and observe if there are people in the streets. If possible, you can also bring chess, cards, a musical instrument or any other recreational activity that springs to mind that you could do with the people.
“Good Morning!” or “Hello/hi!” is a simple but great way to initiate a conversation. Make sure you look at the person in the eye. “The non-homeless person almost never looks the homeless in the eye. If you just look a person in the eye and sort of nod, it’s the most respectful thing you can ever do.”
It is advisable to have a cup of coffee or tea to offer. However, make sure you bring 2 cups, one for the person on the streets and one for yourself - you want to show solidarity and not end up in the “charity spiral”. Instead of simply offering the person a hot cup of coffee, you can show solidarity by saying: “Would you like to share a cup of coffee with me?” (please try to find fair-trade coffee if you opt for coffee). If the person accepts, make sure you sit down with them, do not stand and share the drink while standing. If uncomfortable with sitting, you could try to squat next to the person.
You can continue the conversation by asking: “How are you doing? What is your name?” If the person is responsive, you can slowly move on to commenting on random light topics, like how good the coffee is or how cold the weather is, on the building across you or anything that comes to mind. Once you manage to slowly break the ice, you can ask: “I see you sitting here every now and then, I wonder where you sleep at night?” Try to find out the story of this person, why is she/he in the streets, what happened to them, what was their life like in the past? Remember that if the person is on the streets often, it does not necessarily mean they are homeless.
Try to be empathetic as opposed to sympathetic, be fully present in every interaction and conversation, listen deeply to everything the person says, look at them in the eyes, be genuinely curious. And you do not have to offer solutions, empathy means showing understanding about what the person is feeling, so simply saying: “I hear you, it must be very difficult to have gone through that. Thank you for sharing that with me” can be much more powerful than coming up with magical solutions. Of course, it is good if you could ask how you could help or refer the person to nearby shelters (if there are any), but try not to jump into solutions.
Smile at the person. Don’t be afraid to touch them, even if it’s just a simple tap on the shoulder! (but be careful - not all people like this, so you need to be the judge). It is important to acknowledge the person as a human being, as your equal. And why not, when saying goodbye, offer them a hug!
If possible, try to write down the person’s story and publish it in some magazine. It is a powerful way of giving marginalised/homeless people a voice. Writing is a good way to do indirect action when it comes to social activism.
There are many solidarity initiatives throughout the world that encourage homelessness sleepouts, where non-homeless people spend a night sleeping in the streets. If possible, try to stay out one night with a homeless person. If you feel uncomfortable doing it on your own, you could even invite your friends to join you! Or better yet, make an event online (for example on facebook) and organise a homelessness solidarity sleepout as a political statement! This is a powerful way to raise awareness about homelessness among the population but also among the participants as you will be directly experiencing at least a tiny part of the plight these people undergo - “a night in their shoes”.
What did you learn about the marginalised people on the streets?
What was the story (if any) they shared with you?
Did this experience somewhat change your perceptions on people staying/sleeping in the streets?
Will you do something differently in the future when meeting these people after the activity you did?
Instructions for Submission
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Instructions for Assessment
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