On 13th May, I met with other caring people from around Manchester to sleep outside, to get a small taste of the experience of sleeping on the streets. The evening began by setting up stalls and banners with our friends from Congo Children Trust. We had a stall where passers-by could ‘write the rights’ most important to them, reminding us of the rights we take for granted, that are rarely realised in the lives of street-connected children.
Our drummers serenaded the people of Hulme, as curious local residents came to find out what was happening, and it wasn’t long before dancing ensued! Surrounded by leaflets and banners, we were able to talk to interested people about the lives of children living on the streets, raising awareness and spreading information about S.A.L.V.E.’s vital work. Friends were made amidst the cake and cardboard children models, as the volunteers and organisers of the two charities worked together, creating a real atmosphere of solidarity as we combined forces to highlight the cause of child homelessness around the world.
As it started to get dark, it was time to roll out our sleeping bags and cardboard beds and hunker down for a cold night under the stars! But amidst the chatter and fading light we realised that, although the stars hadn’t joined us, it wasn’t that cold after all (to start with).
I was struck by how unfair it is that I can sleep safely under lock and key every night, while somewhere in Uganda, this is a child’s life. About now, someone half my age is sleeping on a piece of cardboard that is just as uncomfy as this, getting a crick in their neck – only, they won’t be able to fall into bed the next night and catch up on sleep.
As I was thinking this, the first drops of rain came down and soon a steady stream of rain led us to huddle under our flimsy Gazebo, seeking shelter similar to that sought by the children we know, who would huddle in doorways, under trees or market stalls. But, just like the children sleeping on the streets in Uganda, there were too many of us to fit under the shelter and bits poked out. Gradually, we all got a little wetter – a foot here, an arm there. We realised that this is what solidarity really look like and we were just going to have to put up with it.
Tossing, turning and finally quiet. Suddenly, with a start, I recognised I had been asleep, but then came the horrible realisation that the ground was slightly sloped and that I had, in fact, been sleeping in a puddle. I moved elsewhere at this point, quietly so as not to wake the others, but looking back the next morning with the group, it occurred to me that inequality looks very different from the other side and that you can’t really see it until you’ve in a small way experienced it yourself. Sleeping outdoors in solidarity gave me a greater appreciation of the cause I am fighting for at S.A.L.V.E. The event was enormously enjoyable and although sleeping out was uncomfortable and soggy, I am glad I took part and strongly encourage anyone who is considering it to give it a go!
If you would like to donate to S.A.L.V.E. International in support of the Solidarity Sleepout, you can do so by following the link here. All the proceeds raised go to helping children leave the streets and be resettled to safe homes and re-enter education. Thank you in advance for your generosity.
*Photo credit: ©2017 Richard Strittmatter
** Special thank you to our friends from UCOMM who came to support the event too