This is a my first blog post with my new website so I will share a little bit about how this blog is going to work. I'm going to try to post weekly, (around Sunday or Monday) however there will be times when I miss a post. I apologize in advance. This is a blog about my experiences surrounding homelessness as I work on Cards4aCause and what I see in my daily life. If you have a specific topic you would like me to write about, please reach out through "Contact Me." Great! Let's get started.
I am currently in the beautiful country of Turkey and having an amazing experience. However, there was a n unexpected twist to my vacation. I was confronted with homelessness in a completely different envirermont and culture. I figured I would share a little bit about my experiences, some facts and my mindset regarding the situation. Keep in mind I haven't spent enough time here to have been in every situation and know all the different social cues.
My experience with homelessness in Turkey started my third day here. I had thought about the possibility of doing a post on the homeless situation here but not really beyond that. I was in vacation mode! However, I saw a older woman who was clearly dirty from sleeping on a park bench near the Bosphorus river. I was shocked how similar this situation was like to one I experienced in Boston all the time. People pretending to not see what was happening; continuing to go about their lives without a second thought. I saw a similar man in the same area again late. Again, I was shocked how similar the situation was. However, there were no signs asking for money and this was a difference from what I was used to. I saw more of this when I experienced young kids selling packs of tissues or begging for money. Now these children may or may not have been homeless but it was a terrifying sight. To pass a small boy with dirt on his face asking you for 1 dollar (which to us, is about 35 cents) for food. I was in front of an English speaking Turkish woman and her family friend who were talking about a young boy selling a trinket for some money. The woman really didn't want her younger friend to, saying it "encouraged him to stay here all day." However, the young man insisted saying "It's just 30 cents, you don't know their situation." I know I am getting a little off topic however it is important to think about these young children, homeless or not basically being forced into a form of child labor. But even more than that, why is that necessary? Why is that the resort for these families?
A related situation that was so hard to encounter was when you saw a woman, often a refugee huddled with a young baby boy on the side of the road. Often these were extremely young woman, anywhere from 15 to 30. They were in full burka most of the time, hanging around popular areas. Near garbage cans and tourist stores or even mosques. The really surprising thing about this situation was that these women weren't asking for money. There was no sign, no soup can, not even a gesture. I was struck by a feeling of confliction, I was unclear whether they wanted my money. Pride is an extremely powerful emotion and I certainly didn't want to offend anyone. I watched from a distance two particular woman, clearly separate but in a similar situation, bouncing babies and sitting on cement; what a life. In the end a man who was clearly related came up to both of them and I left. However, during dinner that night, I started composing this exact blog post in my mind and I was confused by what I wanted to share. I knew this was an extremely powerful moment and I did want to share it other people about it, but I wasn't sure whether I should have given money. Speaking to my friend about it she said that she always felt more comfortable when the person who was homeless was actually asking for money. I understood this but I still felt that maybe I should help, whether or not this woman had been asking. As I lay in bed thinking about the situation, I realized it boiled down to a singular emotion; Pride. I wasn't unclear about whether I wanted to help but I was unclear about whether or not I was hurting someone by helping. It may seem silly to think about someone's pride while they could be starving. And that is certainly a hard sentence to write. But the point of sharing our individual experiences is change the way we think about current events. And because homelessness has become "my" current event I thought it was an important moment to share. I created Cards4aCause specifically because I believe in keeping intact everyone's right to chose what they need because no matter where they live or what they live in, they are individuals. I am often asked why I felt the need to form my own charity instead of just giving to others. I strongly support every movement, organization, group etc that helps people. However, these situation where I am looking at people and wanting to help, without doing any harm, to their emotional and physical state. Obviously, I am a long way from helping the homeless in Turkey but they do say, the crazy ones change the world, so we'll see!
Before I wrap up this post on homelessness and begging in Turkey, I want to share some other different and interesting experiences I encountered related to begging. Turkey has an extremely large out door eating life. All the restaurants are outside. We were eating at a small Italian place, (Italian in Turkey, I know, it was a moment of weakness) and a young man came up to us. Like many people here, he was begging and bargaining at the same time. He had the travel Kleenex in his hand and was selling them for a lire each. However he was also saying, "Please, please" in a way that could only be described as begging. The other interesting aspect of this is that he was holding a laminated document that he claimed was a Syrian citizenship paper. We were skeptical but decided to help him out, whether that paper was his Syrian documentation. Before we could give him a little money a waiter from the restaurant we were eating at tried to shoo him away. We protested and the waiter gave in. The young man moved on and we went on eating our Turkish-Italian food. But looking back on that event, I think we can learn two things. The waiter was not a mean person, only a smart businuesman. People won't eat at a restaurant that has beggers swarming it. And two, this man and others we saw are using the Syrian crisis, expecting sympathy. We certainly were. And whether or not, this particular young man or the other countless we saw were in fact Syrian, the point still stands. Turkish citizens are sympathic to legitimate Syrians with documention. Now, this is obviously not on the topic of homelessness, but it is related. We don't know if these people have a place to sleep but we do know that they need help, in whatever way we can give it.
To wrap up a post filled with a mixed experiences, I want to leave you with the idea that it truly matters what you feel inside your head. Imagine how hard it would be to put aside your pride and beg on the streets. This is what we want to change.
Of course, I want to encourage you to donate, join our email list that is kicking off very soon! I will have a date for that in a week or two but I want you to sign up now! Thank you for reading!