Let me share with you a story.
For a brief time, years ago, I lived in Langley. My children attended a school in the Douglas Park area, which is a poverty-stricken area of Langley. Although by outwards appearance the area does not seem that bad, the sad reality of life for many is not one of enjoyment, but of day- to- day, and week- to-week survival.
I realised just how bad it was within the first week of school in September. My first indicator was the lunch program sheet both the kids came home with. First of all, it was the first time the kids had attended a school that even had one, and secondly,the sheet not only had the selections for the week, and a box to check for payment - but also a box to tick if no payment could be made.
My second reality check came a few days later. Upon arriving at the school at the end of the day to pick the children up, a local grocery store truck came by and dropped off a large multi-level rack of day old baked goods at the front of the school. I was puzzled, and asked one of the staff what it was for.
” Rather than throw it out, the store brings it here to help out the low-income families. The kids are welcome to take one or two bags full each. “
I’m ashamed to say, that at the time, I was clueless as to how bad the problem was in many suburbs, especially Langley. When the bell rang and the children came out , it was overwhelmingly sad to see how many kids literally dove at the racks of bread, some of them ripping the bags open and ramming the buns into their mouths in obvious hunger. Others took as much as they were allowed and brought it home with them to feed the rest, but every child had a warm thank you to the staff member overseeing the dispersal.
There were always one or two spindly children who hung back after their allotment, waiting to see if there was any more extra to take home. My heart broke every single time this occurred.
When most people think abject poverty, they think the DTES, but my time living in Langley was nothing but a series of reality checks.
There were kids whose families were so poor that one meal a day was the rule. There were kids who would use the free buns and bread for their lunches. Imagine that. A dry piece of bread passing as a childs breakfast and lunch. There were also many kids whose parents- for one reason or another- were too proud to use the free lunch program, and would send their kids with the same sort of meal – one item that could barely sustain me throughout the day. My kids noticed too, and felt bad having such nutritious lunches and so I used to pack massive bags for my kids, so that they could share with others without making them feel like it was a hand-out. I just could not bear to think of those little kids being so hungry while sitting in their seats at school.
I drove through that area a while ago, and for all I could see, it looks like nothing has changed. I can guarantee you if you walked into that school with a tray of hot meals, there would be kids whose stomachs would be growling and lurching at the prospect of a good hot meal.
That, my friends, that is a crime in my eyes,because this is happening in many, many schools all over the province, not just Langley and Surrey and the East side. The consequences of poverty and hunger throughout childhood are profound and long-lasting, and it doesn’t take a psychologist to tell you that. A child cannot learn properly and cannot develop to their full potential with an empty stomach. Hunger on the level some kids are experiencing is like having an animal inside you that never rests. It is all-consuming.
Most people would assume that kids who live like this are from families on assistance, but that is not the case. Many are from families of the working poor- an increasingly prevalent condition in BC, in my opinion.There are so many single parents and families working and living on minimum wages in this province, and we currently have more people on EI than ever in recent years.
You do the math. $8.00 an hour, X 40 hours a week = $320.00 X roughly 4 weeks =$ 128o.oo a month, before taxes. That is not a hell of a lot of money, even if you double that with two parents working.
Regardless of the “challenging economic times” we are facing, there is no justification for the embarrassment for having so many children living in poverty.
I can say, with all certainty, that we stand to lose an entire generation of our province’s most valuable resource – our children. Why do I say that?
Whether you agree with me or not, I believe that it takes an exceptional set of parents and an exceptional child to overcome the environment and cycles that poverty perpetuates.
Children from poor homes face challenges other children do not. Hunger creates a difficult learning environment, as I mentioned, but children who live with the stress that poverty often creates in a family, will also be more likely to get into trouble later on in life, and potentially drop out of school.
When a child see’s no hope growing up, when that same child see parents, or a parent, struggling over and over, a child often will have nothing to reach for.
I believe that making our schools the safe harbour, the feeding point, the all access support communities for these children is part of the key to breaking this horrible cycle of poverty. If children feel that love,care and nurturing throughout those early years, they will see and become a part of those positive changes, therefore increasing the likelihood of becoming a successful adult later on in life- and thus becoming a vital part of our future workforce , rather than a drain on our systems. That is why cutting education budgets is crazy. That’s why cutting access to activities and programs and special aids and teachers aides, is insane. We need it. Our children need it. And most of all, the future success of our province depends on it.
I found a press release today, that stated the Province of BC’s portion for the revamped Robson Square skating rink was $1.3 million. $1.3 million dollars to fix something that can only be used for a small portion of the year by a limited number of people.
I can’t help wondering how many children in BC, that $1.5 million would have helped go to bed with a full tummy tonight, and wake up knowing there was something in the fridge to eat forbreakfast, for a change.
Yes, as the quote says in the headline above : ” Choice has always been a privilege of those who could afford to pay for it.”
Too bad the Liberals are all making the wrong ones.
I’m Laila Yuile, and this is how I see it.