UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

A lesson on ending poverty

Charity is important, but it's not always enough

By Carolyn Pogue

Just before the Alberta election last week, I was involved with Women Rising Up, a conference about ending poverty in Calgary. A small dogged committee worked on this conference for nearly a year under the leadership of Mary Sheridan, a member of Parkdale United Church. The United Way, the YWCA, the Women’s Centre, Women Together Ending Poverty and the Child Well-being Initiative were involved.

We all know charity is important. We also know it’s not enough. It doesn’t get at the systemic reasons for poverty, and it’s often humiliating for recipients. We planned a conference where participants would be a mix of people who had and had not experienced poverty. Any woman could come — there would be no entry fee, and bus tickets, meals and childcare would be free. It would be beautiful, with flowers, art, live music and theatre. We invited only women because women often speak more openly about sensitive issues away from men.

On the opening Friday night, Blackfoot elder Audrey Weasel Traveller blessed our gathering and spoke about women’s power. We learned from Lorna Crowshoe, the Aboriginal issues strategist for the City of Calgary, about poverty issues in the local Aboriginal community.

On Saturday, the United Way presented a two-hour poverty simulation exercise. We were given new identities, based on real people. It took a little time to slide into character and begin our lives together. I became a working wife, 39, with an unemployed husband and a pregnant 16-year-old. Our days were spent in line-ups at the Food Bank, the pawnshop, the employment agency — and for me — working at a boring job. Each simulated week lasted 15 minutes. Within two weeks, my family faced eviction. At the end of our simulated month, I was so focused on keeping our home that I was hardly speaking to my husband and daughter. I felt frustrated. The simulation teaches many things, including how little time and energy is left in a week for advocacy work. That lesson remains with me long after the experience.

Later, we heard from experts: three women with lived experience of poverty. One had lived on the street, been incarcerated and now runs an agency to help women after prison. Another was an optometrist currently living in a women’s shelter. The third was a war refugee. It wasn’t only that they told powerful and courageous stories, they did so in a circle, without notes, podiums or tables; they were vulnerable. In our program, we named them Truth Tellers.

We concluded with an afternoon Open Space Forum focusing on how each of us will continue working to end poverty. A day later, on election night, NDP leader Brian Mason actually mentioned children in his election night speech. Conservative Premier Allison Redford has promised to end child poverty within five years. And the liberals have been talking about school lunch programs for years.

As we gather more allies and hold our leaders to their words, I dare to hope we’re making progress to eliminate poverty in Alberta. And of course, in Canada. Why not?

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image