Lightening the Load

"No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another." - Charles Dickens

If you had to leave your home in a mad rush - not knowing if you’d ever be back or how long you’d be gone - what would you grab? What are your most prized possessions? What couldn’t you live without?

Do you have your list? Great.

Did it include a comb? Hairbrush? Toothbrush and toothpaste? How about toilet paper - and if so, how much space are you devoting to it? Did feminine hygiene products make the cut?

For most of us, this is purely a mental exercise. We, thankfully, haven’t experienced this desperate flight first hand. However, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) it’s a devastating reality for over 68.5 million people worldwide. That’s 44,400 people each day forced to leave their homes - and most of their possessions - because of conflict and/or persecution.

In recent weeks we’ve seen some of these people, as part of a migrant caravan, face continued conflict and persecution as they’ve attempted to reach the United States and declare amnesty. In these moments it becomes clearer what is of utmost importance. And many things just don’t make the grade.

In Kitchener-Waterloo, HeartBeatsHate’s home base, there are a number of agencies that work to help refugees and asylum seekers settle into life in Canada. The Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre (KWMC) is one of these amazing places.

The KWMC’s “doors are always open to anyone that needs assistance.” For more than 50 years, the KWMC team has helped individuals and families navigate the various systems and processes required to finally call Canada home. Today, they remain busy.

“KWMC’s mandate is to break down the barriers to full participation of new Canadians in the Kitchener-Waterloo community and surrounding areas,” says Lucia Harrison, CEO.

One thing that KWMC - and many other settlement organizations - are always in need of? The basics. Those things that help you start and end your day. Toilet paper. Toothbrushes. Toothpaste. Combs. Soap. Shampoo. Little things, but they have a big impact.

When refugee claimants arrive at our country's doorstep, they often arrive with nothing. In fact, most people fleeing for the lives are advised not to carry anything that would make those in power think they are fleeing. Documents, transcripts, and toiletries can be a dangerous giveaway. KWMC works closely with claimants to help them access housing, but we all know that stocking up on necessities can be very expensive.

Think about how you start and end your days - and just how much we take for granted. Most of us wake up in a warm bed, to the sound of an alarm of one type or another. After hitting snooze and a good stretch, we make our way to the bathroom. There, we find most - if not everything - needed to start our days. Running water. Soap. Shampoo. Toothbrush. Toothpaste. Comb. Maybe even some makeup, perfume or cologne. And odds are, we didn’t even think about it. Or if we did, it was most likely to add something to our mental shopping list. For many of us, these are the staples. They’re just there. And at HeartBeatsHate, we think this should be the case for everyone.

So, stop two on our 5 Days of Kindness brought us to KWMC, where we gifted the community with 40 hygiene kits, plus some staples for the supply cupboard. It was pretty amazing walking with KWMC staff and volunteers, each carrying bags of needed supplies. It was cold, snowy and slippery, but the laughter was warming as we shuttled bags from the car to the office.

Talking to the staff and volunteers they were overwhelmed by the generosity, but quick to add that help it doesn’t always have to be this big. One bottle of shampoo. Some soap. Extra toothbrushes from the dentist. Any and all of these donations will add up to a big impact.

Being able to supply some of the basics for claimants not only provides for their physical needs but also lets them know they have arrived in a caring community. This is an important introduction as they try to build a new life.

Our experience at KWMC was a great reminder of how simple kindness can be. And that it is something that accumulates. Kindness builds, adding up to always create something more. So, maybe the next time you’re at the store and you see a great deal on toilet paper, pick up one extra for the KWMC of your community. Same too with toothpaste or shampoo. Or maybe you could start a monthly donation bin at your work or school to collect one specific hygiene product to deliver. Just think - if everyone did that, the cupboards would be full for all those in need.

Being able to supply some of the basics for claimants not only provides for their physical needs but also lets them know they have arrived in a caring community. So important as they try to build a new life.

Victoria Ford

Victoria thinks the world could do with a lot more heart. Her goal? To encourage others to stand up, speak out and push back against hatred.