Monday, July 24, 2006

Cultural Benevolence












Sitting here watching Israel destroy Lebanon I see a man on the news say that what Israel should really do is talk to their enemies. And I hope that this war, so brutal in it's honesty, will teach us just how far off the track we have become.

The downtown eastside is one of the poorest most painful communities in Canada. It is full of drug addicts, sex trade workers, homeless people and blocks of empty storefronts. It is also the oldest neighbourhood of the city - the first one built to service the Port of Vancouver. It is also the strongest community we have despite the broken windows - connected, interpendant, trading within itself.

When I decided to build a business in Kenya I realized I needed some experience first to prove that trading with those in poverty is better than charity so I spearheaded a for-profit calendar project using disposable cameras in this neighbourhood ten minutes drive from the house I grew up in. In 2007 the calendar will go into it's fourth year of production, still proud, still earning income for those who need it most. The calendar seeks to pay for itself bringing with it opportunity for the marginalized, forgotten and needy.

And now I am back down there taking more photos for another project looking for a dumpster behind the Sunrise Market where produce is left for local residents. And so I think of 'benevolence' and how the Chinese community in Vancouver was built. In the 1920's the only way Chinese people who had come to Vancouver to build the railways could bring their families to join them was through what was known as 'Benevolent Societies' or in essence, pay to enter with care.

Having lived in Vancouver most of my life I have always wondered how the hell the Chinese residents put up with all the violence and drugs and crime within their shared community of the downtown eastside. Of all the kinds of people to co-habitate with crystal meth addicts, shuffling elderly Chinese ladies has always seemed so strange to me. But then I think of the Benevolent Societies and wonder if there must be a connection.

Maybe somehow the Chinese who struggled to come here so long ago and then to establish themselves and raise their families in a completely foreign culture can empathize with this marginalized population. Perhaps they are less judgemental or afraid - more accepting or enlightened somehow about what they see.

When I photograph the dumpster I see fresh tomatoes that I could easily use to make some kick ass tomato sauce and I ask myself - should I take some? They have just been placed minutes ago by one of the marketers and they're not rotting - they're just kinda soft or torn - and since my tomato sauce would beat them to a pulp anyway, what's the difference? But I don't take any. Maybe if no one was looking I might. How often do you get something you need for free?

The dumpster reminds me of the kids I meet on the streets of Nairobi, when they approach me and ask for money or food by the studio. I always go get them something to eat in what I feel is all I really can do. And when I do this the Kenyans always talk to me, tell me they don't need money they need a place to live and someone to care for them. I don't believe it's right to take kids out of their culture through adoption - I think it's better to help build a world around them so they at least they have this thing they know that is them. Their culture will always give them a ladder to climb, an advantage or hug from home.

And this is the same thing in the downtown eastside - not to take the residents out or displace them but to rebuild what is around them so they can care for themselves. This is like what is happening in Aceh Indonesia after the tsunami. Many of the aid organizations who went there with suitcases of cash have left now, their project abandoned and leaking, reminders of the temporariness of an outsider's care. It is the few housing projects being run by and for the people of Aceh that are working. When we take ourselves out of the end result of helping others, when we do it truly for purposes of benevolence maybe somehow what our intentions are supposed to be can shine more clearly through those we seek to support.

Hero of the Day - John Adams, founder of Room to Read.

2 Comments:

Blogger robbinshood said...

Your are Nice. And so is your site! Maybe you need some more pictures. Will return in the near future.
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6:43 AM  
Blogger rahulv said...

Kenya Culture

The Culture of Kenya is intriguing for an anthropologist and a tourist alike. The history of Kenya reveals the presence of humankind in Kenya from the early Stone Age. Kenya was also a migratory path, which saw the arrival of clans and tribes from Africa and the Middle East.
In modern times Kenya had become the victim of colonization. The Portuguese arrived at the end of the 15th century. They were replaced by two Arab dynasties. The Arab supremacy lasted till the 18th century when Kenya fell into the hands of the British.

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2:26 AM  

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