Hini explain the challenges faced by homeless individuals in Kelowna and the present need for student support.
Daniel Greene: How did you get involved in this project? Tell me a bit about yourself.
Dela Hini: I am a third-year sociology major, political science minor, but in my fourth year at UBCO. I started the Arts and Sciences Students Association last semester with a group of my friends when I realized that the Barber School doesn’t have a unified course union. I actually started in engineering on this campus, and over there we have the Engineering Society which looks out for the interests of all engineering students. A.S.S.A. aims to be something very similar, in terms of supporting students and encouraging interdisciplinary activities.
I am the creator and project lead for the Pink Backpack Project! The PBP is part of A.S.S.A’s initiative for Community Engagement. The Community Engagement pillar was created to encourage students to play an active role on campus and in the community via philanthropic activities. When we were brainstorming how to engage with the community in a positive way, a member of the A.S.S.A. exec team suggested that we serve marginalized women by distributing pads. From there we flushed out the idea further and the PBP was born!
DG: Tell me about the Pink Backpack Project. What is the significance of the colour pink and why backpacks?
DH: “Pink” comes from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #10 (Reduced Inequity), which so happens to be a pink logo. Our goal with the PBP is to encourage students to do their part in reducing inequity in Kelowna and associating our mission with the UN SDG’s is a perfect fit since it’s such an innovative and global mission. Backpack simply relates to (1) being a student and the fact that we want to encourage students to serve the community and (2) the mode in which we want to deliver donated items.
DG: What unique challenges do homeless women face? How do social factors such as ethnicity and gender intersect with socio-economic status in these cases?
DH: Essentially, you’re asking: how does class, race, and gender play out in the experiences of homeless women? That’s quite a broad and complex question, and as a privileged student I’m not the best person to answer, because of my positionality as an individual who has not experienced homelessness or sexual exploitation based on gender (which is the case for many of the women we aim to serve, who are connected to Kelowna’s H.O.P.E. Outreach).
Fully recognizing my limited understanding, I can extrapolate based on working on this project and from my sociological background that homeless women have the unique challenge of being gendered bodies in a harsh and demoralizing space. When ethnicity comes into the equation, they may also experience erasure based on racial prejudices.
DG: Do homeless women in Kelowna face any unique challenges?
DH: Homeless women everywhere face unique challenges. One very distinct and unique challenge is that homeless cis-gendered women most likely have their period, and therefore have to choose between using their money to buy food or tampons (as noted in the Bustle Magazine mini-documentary “How Do Homeless Women Cope With Their Periods”). Again, I can’t speak for the homeless women in Kelowna because I’m not one; only they can truly say what they need and the PBP hopes to work with them in order to raise awareness of the inequities they face.
DG: How do you plan to reach out to more people this year?
DH: We hope to work more closely with campus partners to promote the project and build a pool of volunteers. Our current volunteer pool is very limited in their capacity as everyone involved is a busy student, so hopefully by spreading the word we’ll be able to garner more interest and support for the project.
DG: What strategies do you find work the best to attract student support for issues such as these?
DH: It’s not easy to mobilize students, but I think creating a safe space in which people feel that they can engage in dialogue is really important. We’ve seen this on campus with things like Hearth, the WRC Tea Talks, and the Intercultural Development Program that when you create a space in which students can share their ideas in a supportive space, they’re more encouraged to take action from there to make a difference. Plus, free food is always good to draw students in. We’re definitely going to get some free food at our meeting this semester!
DG: Where can students go if they want more information or if they want to donate? Will you have any booths for the Pink Backpack Project on campus in the near future?
DH: Students can message A.S.S.A. by finding us on Facebook or at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also an event page for the PBP! As our volunteer pool grows, we will be setting up booths on campus. Already there are a number of donation bins on campus, including outside of the Equity and Inclusion Office, outside of the International Programs and Services, and inside the Senior Collegia and Global Collegia.