Voices of the Voiceless: Homeless teen encounters judgment and ridicule

Articles, Student Projects — By on May 30, 2013 10:00 AM
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Christian activist and author Shane Claiborne advocates with the poor so that their voices are heard. 

 

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By Carter Brooks

At first glance, Shane Claiborne and Arika Fraser have little in common.

Claiborne, 37, is from Tennessee, is a popular author, and is in demand as a speaker in Christian circles.

Fraser, 15, lives in inner-city Winnipeg and sleeps under parked cars on nights when there is no better option.

What they have in common is poverty.

Claiborne’s experience with service to the poor is famously recounted in his book The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical. He spent 10 weeks living in the slums of Calcutta with Mother Teresa. He made his own clothing and carried no possessions with him during that time.

He has since become a Christian activist, a leading figure in the New Monasticism movement, and a founding member of The Simple Way in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In a telephone interview, Claiborne said he re-learned the concept of true love from Mother Teresa, how she based all of her decisions on love, and love alone.

Proverbs 31:8 instructs us: “Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.” Those living in the poorest areas of Calcutta can easily be classified as voiceless, but Claiborne challenges us to know someone at a deeper level before we write them off.

“We think it is our job to stand up in their place, rather than standing with them and helping them project their own voice,” he says.

“They are struggling, they have wants and desires too, but more importantly, they have needs. Shelter, clothing, food, and water—that is what it comes down to.”

According to Statistics Canada, about one in 10 Canadians live in poverty. Statistics show that 882,000 Canadians used food banks monthly in 2012. Thirty-eight percent of those helped were children.

Fraser can occasionally be found at Agape Table, a soup kitchen in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She believes it is important for the voices of inner-city youth to be heard.

She and her older brother, Jordin, have lived in the hardscrabble neighbourhood of Winnipeg’s North End for the past three years. Through intensely hot summers and chilling winters, Fraser and her brother overnighted in bus shelters, dumpsters, under trees, and occasionally, under parked cars.

“It doesn’t bother us, really,” Fraser says. “I’ve learned how to tune out the noise and shivering.”

“My momma died when I was born, and [my] brother is all I have left,” she added. “We live on the streets, but no one seems to care.”

Fraser says she and her brother encounter judgment and ridicule every day.

She has deep scars running across her forearms.

“Yes I used to cut. [It was the] only way I [could] deal with things sometimes.”

When informed of Shane Claiborne and his work, Fraser says she appreciates having someone out there advocating with the poor.

“I’m really happy that someone is actually doing what we do and getting to speak out for us. This makes me happy. I want out, and want to talk, but [people] don’t like to listen.”

When she isn’t begging for money or searching for leftover food in the streets, Fraser can be found once a week visiting her mother’s tombstone.

“I do it to stay connected. I’m a person too, I have feelings. I miss momma.”

Claiborne believes we are called to do what God did through Jesus, by standing with people like Fraser.

As Mother Teresa often said, “Calcuttas are everywhere, we just need to have eyes to see.”

Shane Claiborne will speak at Canadian Mennonite University’s (CMU) annual Peace It Together conference October 18-20, 2013. For details, visit www.cmu.ca/pit.

Carter Brooks is a student at CMU. He wrote this article as part of his work in the course Journalism—Principles and Practices. “Voices of the Voiceless” is a class project that aims to chronicle the humanity of often-ignored people on the margins of our community.

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