I suppose the experience of living in a tribal village for nearly three months will change a person. How can it not? The way in which I view myself, my position in this world has changed greatly.
I've always been interested in charity and the idea of 'paying it forward' I suppose. I know it can seem like an over-played and cliche 'trend' to be a do-gooder. Yet another 'hipster' style revolution; a way of living that makes everyone think you are better than them.
That shouldn't be the way it is at all and it certainly shouldn't stop people from helping in any way they can. Whether it is donating £1 a month to a charity or working on a voluntary basis abroad.
There is no measure needed when it comes to helping others.
Our human compassion binds us the one to the other - not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future. - Nelson Mandela
My local churches run a winter night shelter for the homeless in the area. Each church hosts the shelter on alternate days. The church I used to attend has been hosting for nearly 4 years.
I don't know why I've never offered to help before, I suppose I was too busy with the 'importance' of me.
The shelters are run with the help of HARP, an independent charity that strives to reduce homelessness by providing emergency housing and long term solutions. Dame Helen Mirren being a Patron among others.
I think the idea of helping at a homeless shelter is just a mere example of how you can help benefit other peoples lives. Not only others but yourself. It is so hard to find perspective in our busy and sometimes self-obsessed lives. I am guilty of this and in honesty probably everyone is.
I am constantly trying to put myself in other peoples shoes. It's a simple saying. Have you noticed that most people will use the phrase in relation to themselves. 'You should put yourself in my shoes'. Well that is how I have experienced the term mostly.
I always try and look at a situation I am in and think, 'imagine you are this person'. I even try and do it in the simplest of situations like a disagreement or argument. In the heat of the moment it is easier said than done.
The truth is that the only thing stopping me from being (homeless) in their position is my family; my parents. It sounds rather dramatic doesn't it? Since leaving University I've been fortunate to the fact that I have had savings to keep me going, and that I have had temporary work for some of the time.
It is constantly draining, not being able to get work no matter what your experience or qualifications. I can't imagine what it must feel like to be in that position and not have the security of family and a home. It breaks my heart to see no one truly 'seeing' these people.
Not so long a go I would be one of those people who would completely ignore people when they ask for spare change. Look straight ahead, or down at the floor, but whatever you do don't look in their direction and don't say a word.
I'm completely disgusted in myself that I would treat a human-being that way. Automatically judging. Now I look at them, stop for a second and explain that I'm sorry but I don't have any change. If I have even more time to spare I'll offer to get them a meal or drink.
It is such an easy thing to do, ridiculously easy.
One evening when out in London a homeless gentleman came up and asked if we had any change. Once more I explained that I didn't but I would get him a drink. He was so kind and sweet. We popped into the little convenient store and I said he could get whatever drink he wanted.
He pointed at a can a coca cola that was 60p, and was worried about the price. Of course I told him not to be silly. He got a packet of crisps too and we headed back outside.
We chatted with him for awhile as we asked where he was sleeping tonight. Luckily he had a hostel to go to. He was more interested in hearing how our night was, and that we were going to get home safely.
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. - Dalai Lama
Now I am not naive, I know that not every experience will be the same. You need to be sensible and safe. But you cannot go through life thinking that everything will 'hurt' you, because you could end up unintentionally hurting someone else. Act on the compassion that you naturally feel, it's in there somewhere I promise. You might even hear an interesting story a long the way.
The Well Traveled
One young gentleman at the shelter began a series of stories about his travels. He couldn't have been much older than me. The fact that he was without a stable address didn't seem to change the fact he had traveled far and wide. Telling stories of rogue camels in Egypt, poisonous frog kicking in Australia and crisp stealing monkeys in Gibraltar.
Whether or not these tales were true were irrelevant. The fact he was telling them to a listening audience is what mattered. People taking the time to hear what he had to say. I have no doubt that the road becomes a place of isolation over time. The simple act of conversation can go a long, long way.
The Injured Father
Another man the same age of my own father began speaking with me. He sat for a long while telling me about his previous history and how he came to be without a home. He was the father of two boys now in their 20's. His house repossessed, and an injured leg due to violence added to the constant difficulties of finding work and even applying for benefits.
As I sat their listening to his story, I couldn't help but think over and over that this was someones father. The very thought of my own dad being homeless, and having to depend on shelters to live breaks my heart.
So in turn this man's predicament broke mine, as did all the guests who turned up that night. Everyone is someone to someone, don't let them be no one when they don't have to be.
I know it's not all sunshine and rainbows but I can only go by what I've experienced. It may be a different story next week. But I wanted to finish this post on a light note.
Two very simple examples of consideration and pleasantry where experienced by myself at the shelter. One of the guests happened to drop the f-bomb when in conversation with one of the 'staff', I of course didn't mind but one of the guests quickly turned around and said, 'mind what you say remember where you are,' of course meaning he was in a church. This gentleman didn't need to show such consideration but he did. He was a Muslim gentleman who had been on the streets for a few years now. He had recently experienced a lot of abuse purely because of his appearance and beliefs. Under pressure he felt the need to shave his beard. It disgusts me that people in this world would abuse someone to such a state that they are fearful for themselves and change who they want to be.
It all comes down to ignorance.
It turns out that the very gentleman who dropped the f-bomb was in need of a pen. A simple request that I soon fulfilled. So happy he was with his pen that he scribbled a note of a serviette that read, 'I love you.' How sweet.
Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. - Albert Einstein
We can find happiness in the most simple of experiences and in the most complex. Just as we can make a difference, either in a simple way or a complex way. As far as I am concerned if you are helping in a compassionate way, then you deserve all the happy experiences you can have. Just make them happen for yourself and for others.
*Banner image by Lee Jeffries (I own no rights to it)