Wednesday, October 28, 2015

#Rolls4Strolls: Let's put an RV back on Victoria's sex-work strolls

Fundraising was never my thing in my journalist years, and I felt very awkward about it back in 2004 when I realized that as the new executive director of Peers Victoria, fundraising was going to be one of the most important parts of my job.

But there quickly came a point in those early fundraising days where I realized that I didn't mind asking people for money, because I knew just how important that money was to achieving whatever it was we were trying to do. It wasn't long before I was making dozens of speeches a year calculated at attracting new supporters for Peers, and got involved in the crazy-making work of organizing a musical talent show for three years running (Victoria Idol) just so we could keep those desperately needed dollars flowing in.

Since starting to work in Central American for Cuso International in 2012, I've gone on to raise money for impoverished children and their families in Honduras, and for Cuso International as well. With 11 years of community fundraising under my belt, I am now just fine with putting my hand out and asking anyone for a donation when it's for a cause I care about.

One of my first fundraising campaigns for Peers in 2005 was to buy a used RV that our late-night outreach team could use on the outdoor sex-work "strolls" in Victoria as a mobile drop-in. I had no idea how we were going to do it (raising money for sex workers, so profoundly stigmatized and misunderstood, is just about as tough a fundraising pitch as you'll ever have to make, trust me), but then a local businessman appeared out of nowhere with $10,000 in his hand and poof, it was done.

Ten years passed, and the outreach team and outdoor sex workers loved that RV right into the ground, and a second one as well. The team has been using a little passenger van for the last two years after the last RV gave up the ghost, but it's just not the same.

There's no kitchen for boiling water for soup, hot chocolate and coffee. No room for loading up donated coats, scarves and such to bring down to the stroll. No warm, welcoming indoor space where people can just take a break from their work and have a few laughs. No private place for a sex worker in crisis to pull an outreach worker aside for a few moments.

So here I am again, back helping Peers find the money for another RV. Not living in Canada right now does make it more challenging to help with fundraising, but I can still help in the background with things like crowdfunding, tweets, and other communication strategies. I can, for instance, write this blog post, and hope that someone reads it and thinks, "Hey, that's a good idea. I want to be part of that."

Maybe that person will be you. And if it is, just glance over there on the right-hand side of my blog and see that GoFundMe link for #Rolls4Strolls. Click on it and give whatever you can.

I know, I know, there are a thousand people like me clamoring for your money, and we've all got causes that in our opinions are the most in need of your support. I won't try to tell you that $5 is barely more than what you pay the barista for a cup of coffee, because that line's probably wearing thin.

But if you've got $5 to give, please do. There are 140 or so outdoor sex workers working off and on along the cold, dark streets around Government and Rock Bay. They've never stopped talking about how much they loved the days when Peers had an RV.

Donate to #Rolls4Strolls and help Peers get another RV out there. Whatever the size of your donation, it matters. And it will go a long way to demonstrating to an extremely marginalized group of workers that they matter, too.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Walking in Managua: Pedestrian tips from the front line

 My walk to work is quite a bit longer this time in Managua, about an hour each way. It gives me more time to reflect on all the ways I could be killed in traffic. 
     Managua certainly doesn’t have the craziest traffic I’ve ever had to walk through; I have, after all, lived to tell the tale of crossing the streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. But fresh from a summer wandering along the coddled streets of Victoria, Managua is quite enough crazy for me at the moment.
    So herewith, a few words of advice for those who would be pedestrians in a busy Central American city:

Cars rule. Never assume that any driver is going to slow down for you to cross the road. Never assume that they even see you at all, even if they appear to be looking right at you. Yes, every now and then you are going to spot a crosswalk, but you’d be out of your mind to think it means anything at all. 

Do way more than simply looking both ways. Approach every road crossing as if you were a CIA agent anticipating an assassin coming at you from an unknown direction. 
    Sure, the nice little green man is signalling that you can walk, but don’t trust him. Sure, the guy in the lane closest to you is smiling at you and giving you a friendly go-ahead wave. But what about the guy in the lane next to him? Or the motorcycle that is almost certainly coming straight up the middle of the two lanes? Or the guy turning left against the lights? Or the guy turning right from the street down the way – the one who’s gunning it to clear the intersection you're crossing before the light changes? 
    Think of it this way: If there’s a car anywhere in sight, it just might run you down. Act accordingly.

Always look behind you. This is probably my most common error. I look both ways, step into a side street to cross it, and boom, a car comes hurtling from behind me doing a high-speed left-hand turn to sneak through a big line of traffic travelling in the opposite direction.
    Equally deadly are the cars coming up from behind that are turning right into some parking lot or gas station whose entrance you are walking past. Back in Canada, such cars dutifully wait until you’re safely out of their way before turning in. Not in Managua.

Never assume that being on a sidewalk means you’re safe. Aside from major pedestrian hazards like cracked cement, giant open storm drains, tree roots, dangling electrical wires, dog poo and wildly uneven surfaces, it’s not unusual to encounter a motorcycle driving along the sidewalk toward you. A couple days ago, I had to jump out of the way of a small car making its way along. Do not allow yourself to grow comfortable.

And anyway, a lot of the sidewalks just end. And just like that, you don’t have so much as a gravel shoulder to walk along. All of a sudden you go from being a relatively happy pedestrian on a sidewalk to someone who’s scrambling to get out of the way of fast-moving buses that are pulling in to pick up passengers, or inching your way around a higgle-piggle of strangely angled parked cars, food vendors, and clamorous hordes of tired Nicaraguans trying to get home on those buses.

The safest place to cross is between stopped cars, not in front of them. Let’s say you’ve got a choice of crossing the street at a controlled intersection, or walking a few metres further up and weaving your way between the cars that are stopped waiting for the light. 
      Pick the weaving option. There’s just way less risk when you can pick and choose which stopped cars to walk in front of, and more chance of escaping unscathed if the line of traffic suddenly starts moving.
      But remember to watch for those motorcycles coming up between the lanes of traffic. Walk. Stop. Peek. Walk. Repeat.

Embrace medians. What lovely things they are, turning impossible four-lane highways into manageable two-lane chunks. And they’re great for standing on while you take a photo of all the traffic coming at you.

Get yourself a good pair of shoes. You do NOT want to be doing all this bobbing and weaving in shoes that are slippery, high-heeled, dainty, or otherwise unsuitable for a last-minute dash when all goes wrong. Never mind what the Nicaraguans are wearing – they’re experts at all of this. Get yourself a sturdy pair of runners and don’t worry about fashion faux pas.

Save the “empowered pedestrian” crap for when you’re back in Canada. You know what I’m talking about: Waving an angry fist in the air at a driver who came close to hitting you; thumping on the hood of a car as you walk past to signal your annoyance that he’s protruding so far into the intersection; fixing the driver with a steely, disapproving gaze to convey Just How Mad You Are; crossing the street at the speed of a tortoise just to prove the point that you’re the one in control.
     It’s hard enough to take empowered pedestrians back in my own land. Down here, they’d just be run right over. Come to think of it, that might be the one endearing feature of Managua traffic.