I started writing this in the days after the Beirut bombings and the Paris shootings. I was hiding out in bed because the world felt like a terrible and scary place. A place where we were in uproar over the atrocities committed in Paris (and rightfully so), but very few people had mentioned Beirut. I don’t know why, maybe we aren’t as surprised when it happens in a city in Lebanon, maybe it’s because Paris is closer to home, quite literally. At least, that’s the experience from my social media feed. I don’t want to go into a rant about this, or too much detail, because I could talk for days and days about it. I guess I just wanted to point out that while what happened in Paris was terrible, similar and worse things happen every day in other parts of the world, and we need to acknowledge that.
I’ve been quiet lately. To be honest, blogging has felt a bit pointless. I’ve been feeling incredibly spoilt, entitled, guilty and so freaking lucky.
Because I was born in a country that was more likely to start a war and contribute to creating a refugee situation than suffer from one. Because I was born in a country where I have basic human rights and then some. Because I have a job, somewhere to live and food. Because Im not currently terrified that the benefits cuts the Tories are trying to put through parliament will make it incredibly difficult to feed myself and family. Because I’m sitting typing this post about how entitled I am on a MacBook pro, in my city centre apartment, while Netflix is playing on my rather large Smart TV. There are homeless people sleeping a five minute walk away from me. Syrian refugees that probably had a life similar to mines not that long ago. Pretty much every person in Palestine is worse off than me times a thousand.
And yeah, it’s been getting to me. I’d be a pretty horrible person if I didn’t acknowledge that I’ve benefitted from the current system. Ok, so I’m not in the obscenely wealthy 1%, but I’m not exactly the other 99% either, am I? I’m top end of the scale, university educated, with job security, and working in one of the few fields in the UK that are expanding. I’m lucky.
So, what do you do when you’re in a guilt funk and painfully aware of the human suffering going on all around you? You might try and ignore it. You might get incredibly depressed at the state of the world. You might just cry a lot. Maybe you’ll opt for a combination of the three and then some. I had plenty of cute little blog posts planned, with Autumn wish lists and Halloween ideas and all sorts of happy frivolous stuff. But I couldn’t build myself up to actually posting any of it.
It all started during the summer. I started to feel increasingly helpless and frustrated at the refugee situation. Frustrated because I saw tabloids labelling them as ‘cockroaches’ and David Cameron referring to them as a ‘swarm’. Helpless because I didn’t know what I could do. I was only one person and the scale of the situation is just overwhelming.
And gradually, I’ve been noticing the increasing number of homeless people in Belfast. Maybe it’s because I never ventured into the city centre much at night as a student, or maybe I just didn’t see anything I didn’t want to when I was younger. I was walking home from a friends house shortly before Halloween and stopped to give a Spanish tourist directions. He pointed at a homeless man curled up in front of the Movie House Cinema on Dublin Road and asked me if that was common here: I had to admit that it was. Walk down Royal Avenue at night and you can see them, people bunched up in sleeping bags in the doorways of closed shops. Not begging, just trying to sleep somewhere safe and partially sheltered. And because I notice them, I also notice the sleeping bags that are tucked into the corners of the entrances of empty buildings during the day, waiting for their owners to come back. I look more closely at the people who are just sitting on benches, looking a little worse for wear, a little lost.
Meanwhile, I’m worried about my adult acne and whether I can get through the next fast day on my 5:2 diet.
It’s hard to ignore, and it’s hard to think about. Because when I think about it, really think about it, I realise how terrifying that life must be. I wonder what went so wrong in their lives that they had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. I know that in a Welfare State, no one should be homeless, but I also know there’s a dearth of housing, that mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction and a host of other issues can contribute to someone ending up on the streets. I’m well aware that some people aren’t even really homeless, but are professional beggars (taxi men always seem to know who these people are, they see everything, seriously).
So I spent a while feeling guilty and selfish and entitled and helpless. I spent a while feeling like the worst person in the world when I even contemplated writing a blog post. Because what was the point of writing anything, when it didn’t help people? I was in two minds over blogging about how I was feeling because, well, people don’t like to read other people moan, do they? We like happy. We like uplifting. We like problem solvers.
But, fuck it. I can’t be the only person who feels like this. I’m not helpless. I’m in a position to do something.
So, if you’re feeling helpless, altruistic or need a charity to donate to. If you just want to do something good, here are a few things you (and I) can do to help the less fortunate in our society.
1. You can volunteer at, or donate to a homeless charity: If you can’t donate your time, donate money. There are a couple of charities about Belfast that I’ve been considering volunteering for: 100 Help The Homeless and the Welcome Organisation.
If you can’t afford a regular donation, or don’t have the time for volunteering, the 100 Help the Homeless are doing an amazing campaign this Christmas where you can make a one off donation of £25 to purchase and fill a rucksack with essentials for a homeless person
Not everyone reading this will be from Belfast. Googling local homeless charities should bring up the organisations in your local area.
2. Donate to a refugee charity. These people are going through more hardship than I can even imagine, have lost everything, their homes, their lives, their families.
There are lists and lists of causes you can donate to on Just Giving here .
Or you can donate to the Refugee Council which aims to help refugees and asylum seekers in the UK
And if you’re just not entirely sure what the whole Palestine situation is about, a friend of mine shared this on Facebook a while back , and it’s probably the best breakdown of the situation I’ve found online (I’m currently looking for a good unbiased book on the whole thing).
This isn’t a comprehensive list of all the causes out there that are worth your time, and if you’re reading this and you can think of any others, please do share them in the comments.
I’m making a pledge to myself that I will donate to one of these organisations every month from now on. There are so many terrible things happening in the world, so much hardship and so much suffering. We are incredibly lucky, and that’s something I, for one, am not going to take for granted anymore.