It was just two weeks ago that I was sitting innocently on the couch in my front room working away on my laptop when I noticed the room drop into an eerie darkness. I clicked on the lamp next to me and wondered how it could've gotten so late so quickly. But alas, it was only 4:30 p.m., the sky was black-ish purple, and I knew something wasn't right.
The rain began to slash into my windows sideways. I ran around playing catch-up on all the already soaked ledges. Soon a knock on my back door notified me that my landlords were downstairs dealing with flooding and needed to get into my storage space where the drain is housed. Great.
Toronto was slammed with heavy storms and flash floods that afternoon. Those in the thick of it were either soaked or stranded in buildings, trains, and their cars if they didn't already abandon ship. Much of the transit system shut down, power was out across the city. There was even an unmanned Ferrari floating expensively down on King Street. It was like the apocalypse had come down upon us.
After the floods receded I surveyed the damage in my storage unit. Most of my stuff was on shelves but a few boxes and a mattress looked to have taken the brunt of it. I chucked a few things around in frustration, mostly grossed out by the nature of the stuff that might have been coming up from the drain. Suddenly I had a flashback to my youth.
It was 1996 and our family was living in Manila, The Philippines. We stood on our porch and watched the giant mango tree outside heave in the angry typhoon. The streets were turning into rivers; floods up to your waist were frequent in rainy season. My dad, who was out doing mission work in squatter areas every day, still hadn't come home. Hours passed. We didn't have cell phones or even beepers -- no way to communicate. We waited.
After what seemed like a lifetime, there he was at the door, wet and reeking of sewage. While wading through the street he had slipped into an open manhole. It almost swallowed him whole but he clung to the edge. He managed to crawl out against a current and trudge home through the swamp of garbage and sewage spillover.
I'll never forget his damp, moldy shoes under the staircase for weeks following. A slightly traumatic experience for a young Canadian girl but at the end of the day, I knew my dad had a place to come home to where he could remove his sewage-y shoes and get clean and dry off.
The trains in Toronto would run again, my storage unit would dry out. The stranded denizens of Toronto would get home. The Ferrari owner would probably just get another Ferrari. But not all would be settled in the world.
Amid our flooding chaos I couldn't stop thinking about my trip back to the Philippines with World Vision Canada in 2010. I remember we walked through one of the large slums, Baseco, where 60,000 people live on reclaimed ocean. It was not even rainy season, it was a hot, sunny day but even then most of the area was flooded because of its proximity to sea level. I peeked into some of the shanty homes as we passed through; beds were propped up out of the pools of putrid water. Locals waded through as though it were just a part of every day life. It was.
I watched a father wade his neatly uniformed daughter on his shoulders across one of the swamps, put her down carefully on the other side and help her put her shoes on before sending her off to school. She was one of the sponsored children in the community, but not all the children were so lucky.
These families simply can't afford school for their kids, and it is not covered by the government, so everyone in the family must work when they're able to survive, whether it's rag picking, begging, sweat shops, mining, drugs, or even worse, sexually exploitative work. Children are forced into dangerous, dirty, degrading work as a result of the conditions they were born into and don't have the same pleasures that we do to come home to at the end of their day. This work interferes with their access to education so the vicious cycle is destined to continue for many of them.
The flood we had here in Toronto was expensive and annoying for many Torontonians. We were put out for a day but we will likely forget and move on in a matter of weeks if we haven't already. I'm writing this piece to put out a small reminder that what we experienced for a day was just a sliver of what millions deal with every day, with no end in sight. It's hard to imagine our own kids being forced into dangerous work, never even knowing how to write their own name, but many are, coming from circumstances like these.
Working with World Vision Canada has been a way for me to actively reflect on circumstances like these. I think it's good for us to be uncomfortable for that reason. If you are sensitive to these issues, there are a number of ways you can lend a hand through great organizations doing important work around the globe. After all, in one way or another, we're all in it together
Go to www.worldvision.ca or www.nochildforsale.ca to get informed.