Welcome back family, friends, loved ones, and all other people who have for some wild reason decided to take the time to read about our travels and experiences! My name is Ada Krahn and it’ll be my voice you’re hearing (or reading rather) for this weeks edition of The Adventures Of Guat-Squad™.
On Sunday, Sept. 23 we packed up and drove into Winnipeg to begin what we call our inner city Urban Plunge. We arrived in St. Boniface and stayed in temporarily vacant transitional housing. These townhouses, we learned, are managed by an organization that helps people arriving from French-speaking countries to transition more easily into life in Canada. It was quite an experience living and eating as a group of 27 in 3 townhouses. Many of us were very ready to rest and have some space from the group by the time Thanksgiving weekend came.
On Tuesday we made our way to 188 Princess, a church in Downtown Winnipeg. Upon arriving we learned that we would be spending the next 8 hours walking in groups to different organizations, outreach centres, ministries, and churches in the North End. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Winnipeg, the North End is the part of the city that struggles the most with the tight grip of poverty. Unfortunately, there is a very large concentration of homelessness, drug addition, gang violence, and many other symptoms of poverty in the North End. So what were we doing there? Honestly, at first we didn’t know. We knew we were there to learn, but we didn’t know what about. Some of us felt underprepared for the time we spent there, but looking back I don’t think there was a clear or easy way to prepare us for this experience.
We were given maps and written directions to help us navigate through the neighborhood in groups of four to these different organizations and a few parks. At the parks we sat and read articles about some specific struggles the community faces, including story of a young boy who died after being hit by a tow truck and how the community responded and came together to heal from the loss.
At each organization a staff member was waiting to speak with us. They spoke about some of the people they work with and their organizations do. At one we simply talked about the huge mural painted on the side of their building, and what it means to the many people who see it and have been moved by it.
At other locations we talked about what poverty really is and how we can effectively help those in need. We heard of a number of alternatively-structured churches and communal living spaces and how they provide opportunities for community and support to some of the most marginalized members of our society. During the walk between each location we saw how the high amount of poverty in the area affected the types of stores and businesses in the area.
We also had the opportunity to stop and chat with some people that we passed. Some of the most memorable and impactful parts of the day were encountering people along the way, as they shared their stories and experiences. The day pushed many of us very far out of our comfort zones, letting us see, hear, and feel things that we never would have from the comfort of our regular lives. We all went to bed extremely tired after having walked and talked for 8+ hours, with the added weariness of only having $2 each to spend on supper; this is the average amount that someone who has no option but to panhandle for food earns in a day.
The following two days were very similar to each other. We split up into small groups in different ministry placements. Each group’s experience was incredibly different, but we all saw a lot of incredible people, a lot of pain and struggling, but also a lot of love.
So many of the people we met are like diamonds; they were put under immense pressure in their lives, but their experiences helped shape them into beautiful people. I saw many of our group members in tears at the end of each day, and for many different reasons. Some from sorrow and the realization of how deep-seated and present these pains are in our world. Some felt like they could have done more to help that day, or that they needed to do more to help in the future. Some from amazement at the perseverance of the people we met. Though some of us didn’t openly display our thoughts and feelings, and despite our very brief amount of time spent there, I believe we all walk forward with a new understanding of poverty in Winnipeg. One that is more sympathetic and understanding, more compassionate and much more willing to give our energy and love where we can.
God is alive in Winnipeg’s North End. In the hearts of the people who call it their home, and in the communities that are fighting to help, support, and love one another.