Stepping forward

By Shehara de Mel

‘Walk a mile in their shoes’ was our focus as we gathered on October 4 in recognition of World Habitat Day. The Stitch movement together with Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka organized a mile long walk, barefoot, to raise awareness of the need for improved shelter: remembering the homeless and forgotten.

Despite threatening weather and a weak turn out we set out to accomplish our campaign. ‘Weak’ turn out is how people would generally term the number that gathered that day; but our perception is that though we were few in number, our enthusiasm and energy matched a thousand people put together. Although we would have desired to see more youth join in our effort it did not discourage or deter us in anyway. Walking barefoot in the heart of Colombo was a first for many of us: but it was worth it.

Traffic moved at an even slower pace while passers-by and vehicles paused every now and then to observe our action. To an ignorant mind, our method of raising awareness would be considered foolish- walking through mud puddles on partially dry roads and feeling the painful sting of stones against our soles. Of course, we did not expect houses to rise from the ground magically, as in fairytales, on completion of our walk. You may ask, what then, did they hope to gain by it?

There are a vast amount of people in this nation without proper shelter whose cries for help are drowned in the hustle of daily life. We marched barefoot for maybe 45 minutes or more but for those less fortunate it’s a part of their very life. While we rest in the comfort of our homes their shelter is often a lone tree, a cluster of trees, a bus-stand or even a cardboard box. We, a group of young people from different backgrounds, came together as one to highlight this distressing reality. Our aim wasn’t to walk for fun or draw attention to our feet; nor was it to hold a till and have people drop generous donations out of pity. It was to draw attention to these lives, human just like us but separated by unfortunate circumstances.

The youth are the future of this nation. Hence it is imperative we begin to act now rather than delay our efforts. Take a moment to ponder on the luxuries many of us have: a bed to rest, a roof above our heads, nutrition and clean water, shoes to protect our feet; to countless it is only but a dream.

We may have ‘looked’ ridiculous and silly to those passing by but change begins with us: If we don’t take a step forward in some little way and advocate such issues on behalf of the voiceless, who will? I like to think that this walk touched the conscience of (maybe not all) but at least a few-maybe it’s a fanciful thought, maybe it’s not: but it’s a start. We are confident that we did not walk in vain.

The few who gathered should indeed be appreciated for their undying support and courageous step but, as mentioned before, although the number did not deter us it did highlight the present difficulty we face: mobilizing youth to act. The reluctance and uncertainty to step out is still prevalent as is their dire need to protect their ‘image’. But what we need to understand is that things could go wrong and suddenly we could wind up homeless and without proper shelter, and more importantly, forgotten. The question is who would speak or act on behalf of us?

The youth are the citizens of tomorrow. We need many young people inspired and motivated to be the change and speak for those who cannot. We understood the realities by walking a mile in their shoes. Have you?

STITCH is a movement committed to educate, advocate, empower & network for social change through youth volunteerism and activism in Sri Lanka. STITCH focuses on promoting volunteerism and activism among youth by empowering them to advocate and act on social issues.

We believe in social change via youth activism and volunteerism, in order to enhance the lives of the people of Sri Lanka. If you’re interested in volunteering with Stitch, or would like to know more about the work we do, please contact Prathiba on 0779851851, e-mail info@stitchmovement.com or visit www.stitchmovement.com

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