Can I really be in the shoes of the working poor? | June 27, 2012

We have been in Oakland for just about a week now. It has been a week full of challenges, excitement, and new experiences. I am thrilled to say that the entire BayUP team has bonded quickly as the Holy Spirit is bringing us together with clear vision to love and serve Oakland this summer. As a staff, it has been most joyful to see students take risks to be in uncomfortable situations and learn what God has for them.

We spent a day in the shoes of the working poor.  Often when society thinks about the poor in the United States we think just of homeless people.  However, we spent much of our day thinking about the working poor, those who are trying to make it day to day in often tedious and laborious jobs where they are the invisible.

Students were assigned to different groups. Some of us were day laborers, some of us custodians at schools, some of us housekeepers or contractors. We worked from 8 to 5 and were paid the little amount the most of these individuals receive after a long day of work. At the end of the day, each student had a profile telling them how many kids they had, if they were single parents, and the expense that they had to pay such as day care, health, among other bills. We hoped this experience even thought the numbers were arbitrary would illustrate just how quickly the money goes leaving it impossible to save let alone care for your family in a sustainable healthy way. Some students had to go to the “emergency room” because they couldn’t afford health insurance and their child was burning up with a fever. Student then had to pay for dinner, shower, and rent to stay in the church that night. After paying all the mandatory expenses many students were left with no choice but to sleep outside.

My assignment was to be a custodian at two schools. We spent our time cleaning and scrubbing countertops, organizing classrooms, and disinfecting chairs and desks after having to lift them and move them. After several hours of spraying the strong disinfectant, I noticed my lungs started to burn and wondered how custodians deal with the chemicals for long hours every day. People were very welcoming to us, but as we reflected as a team we realized that this is probably not the experience for most people who do this kind of work. The custodian, a young woman of 24, explained what she normally does on a daily basis, and while she was grateful for our help, she expressed how we barely hit the surface of the work she does daily. When I asked her how long she had been working at the school she said since she was 19. Overall, she said she enjoyed the kids, but was often tired. She said, I work so hard so that my daughter can have a better future.  You do your best to raise them up right, but there are so many influences outside that door, like prostitution. If I had a son I would be even more worried, with the drugs and all. I was grateful, that she shared a little bit with us and even though we were their scrubbing counters, I was still very aware that this was not a permanent thing for me, but it was for the beautiful young women in front of me.  Please pray for me as I wrestle with this tension being a privileged person learning to empathize with the poor in the inner city.

This week has been very impactful for me and the students participating in BayUP. I am so excited to share with you all that we have been learning. We start at our work site this week. So please pray for us as we start at Covenant House and Freedom School.




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