Day 193 - Alex (4th person I approached)
July 12, 2014 - Alex was sitting outside at a bench, eating a sandwich, and working on his computer. I told him what I was doing and asked if he’d chat with me. Sometimes people ask how long it will take. I’m hesitant to say it could take an hour. I think I’d get ‘no thanks’ more than ‘sure, let’s do this.’ So I generally say ‘we could do this in five minutes, maybe ten,’ and then let the conversation guide us. Alex and I spoke for a good twenty minutes.
He was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario.
“I have an older brother and sister, and a younger sister. There’s two years between each of us. I’m probably closest with my older sister,” he said.
“I was adopted. All four of us were adopted. Each of us coming from different birth parents. My (adoptive) parents were always open and honest with us from as soon as we were able to understand. It was an open and transparent upbringing and being adopted was kind of normalized because it was such an open topic in our house. Our parents may not have been the ones who gave birth to us, but they were always there to guide us, to care for and love us, to keep us in line and to support us,” he said. Alex went to elementary and high school in Hamilton.
When he was eighteen, Alex registered with a national organization that helps connect adopted children with their birth parents.
“Then I did a Google search and immediately found a posting on a private site that had information about my mother. From the time of doing that search to making a phone call was four hours. My birth mother's sister answered. For the last ten years I’ve been getting to know my mother. I had reached a place where I understood why I was put up for adoption. My mother was young when she had me. There were some medical complications involved with my birth and she did what she thought was best,” said Alex.
“I was adopted into a Christian home and I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that I have had, if I had been raised by my birth mother.” We talked about Alex’s belief that there is a correlation or similarity between adoption and Christianity.
“When I was seventeen, I was invited to allow God into my heart and accept Jesus as my saviour. I wouldn’t have had that opportunity if I hadn’t been adopted. Although God’s love is everywhere, and perhaps I would have found it on another path. I did accept Jesus as my saviour. In the same way that I was adopted by people who cared for me and guided me, God allowed Jesus to care for and guide me as well,” said Alex.
After high school, Alex went to university in Guelph, Ontario.
“I studied International Business Development. Looking at ways to help developing countries to grow, while respecting their culture and building on their own programs already in place,” he said. During his studies, Alex travelled to Senegal in West Africa for a six month internship. He worked on a program called ’Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration’ (FMNR). It is a low-cost sustainable restoration technique.
“Where land has been deforested, it then becomes dry, insect infested and unable to produce any new growth. Through collaborative efforts, we help to plant trees that then offer shade and regeneration. Then with shade, and leaves falling and feeding other species on the ground, it begins supporting a healthy biodiversity. The challenges are many. Where we were in Senegal, unless you’re wealthy and there is gas available, wood is used as fuel for cooking. So trees get cut down and not necessarily by the farmer's trying to improve the conditions,” he said. Alex said it helped to put things in perspective for him when thinking about life here in Canada.
“I work at trying to find ways that I can offer support. I don’t need to have the latest and greatest technology for example. I don't have to get a new phone every year. I can eat out less and then channel some of my resources toward helping others less fortunate. I can engage in conversation about the situation in which people in Senegal survive. In Africa, there are often family members that come to the west to work and then send money back to their family to help improve the living conditions. What can we do from here to help others? I feel that every person could benefit from living in a developing country for at least a few months. We'd have a truer appreciation and understanding of the reality of ‘first world problems’ and how others live in various parts of the world,” he said.
“I know for myself I feel that every once in a while I’d like to leave Vancouver to keep things in balance.”
Four years ago, Alex moved to Vancouver.
“I came here to intern for an organization called ‘Servants’ (full name ‘Servants To Asia’s Urban Poor’). They're based in the Downtown Eastside (DTES - the poorest neighbourhood in Canada). They work with local residents who are often marginalized, with drug addictions, homelessness and mental health issues,” said Alex.
“I’m not working with Servants any longer. I’m going to UBC (University of British Columbia) and working on my Master's degree with the intention of getting into Social work." he told me.
"I live in the DTES myself, in a house with a group of people who are doing what we can to make a difference in our community. It’s about getting to know our neighbours, and offering alternatives. There are conflicting views about the gentrification that is happening around the DTES neighbourhood. Some people think it’s a good thing and others don’t. Does creating a concentrated neighbourhood of people with issues make it better, or does it make things worse?" he asks.
"I think while it’s good to point out a person's strengths, there's a real need for honesty and open communication. That’s what I try to bring to the conversations I have with people. It has to be okay to say ‘Well here’s what I think or see that you could be doing differently.’ It’s all fine to build someone up, but will that help them to create change in their life? People need to hear what they’re able to improve upon, or have it pointed out. Sometimes the truth is hard. Accountability and balance helps us all.” #notastranger