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by Dominique Blain

Students are always complaining about how poor they are.

I am always complaining about how poor I am.

Sure, being a student in Toronto isn’t exactly financially easy. Working through a full summer can barely cover rent for the academic year in the Big Smoke. And then there are the Ryerson creditors constantly knocking at your door demanding tuition money. Not to mention Johnny Knuckles from the credit card company…

But then, Toronto in particular, there are also the constant other demands for money.

A walk through the neighbourhood stirs up countless pleas. Can you spare a dollar; do you have any change; I’m hungry; I’m homeless.

Watching TV is similar. Victims of Katrina need your help; adopt an orphan; call to pray with us.

Even garbage cans want help: “Yo, where’s my ice flo,” asks the Greenpeace polar bear.

It’s nonstop, it’s heart-breaking and it’s headache-inducing. I want to retain my humanity and help where I can, but I can’t help everywhere. And I can’t help much.

I am forced to make a decision: whom do I help and how? Last Friday I came up with a personal answer relatively easily: stay away from Katrina and start at home.

The shelves of our own food bank are empty, this despite an ongoing food drive.

Last year I needed food on those shelves. I was one of the 175,000 people who needed food in the Greater Toronto Area in any given month.

This year, as much as I can, I am trying to provide it.

While I do sympathize with the victims of Katrina, who are doubly so because they were forgotten by their own people for being mostly African-American and from low-income backgrounds, I am perplexed by the double standard coming to life around me.

Are underprivileged people in our own city so easily forgotten that we will give to underprivileged people abroad first? Why are citizens of Toronto and the rest of Canada coming together and pooling resources for one million Americans that have had to flee their homes instead of doing the same for the millions of people in Toronto, Ontario and Canada who have been living in under-par circumstances this whole time?

The sociopolitical implications of Katrina are grave and I think that our duty with Katrina victims is academic rather than financial.

It is important to study what happened in New Orleans and make sure we aren’t setting ourselves up for a parallel situation.

We also need to be the watchdog that confirms the realities that the United States might not want to admit; their actions need to be brought to light so they can no longer ignore them.

But Katrina victims live in the wealthiest country on earth. We shouldn’t have to bail them out — even if their own government forgets them, there are 300 million citizens there who can fundraise just as much as any Canadian citizen can.

Reasoning along these lines on Friday, I told myself: Start at home.

But Saturday morning, a 7.6-magnitude earthquake hit northern Pakistan. United Nations estimates that four-million people were affected. Just before that, stories started surfacing that 51,000 people in Guatemala’s poorest regions had been displaced because of land slides.

I had to reconsider my newly minted dogma.

How can I start at home when the UN says one million Pakistanis are “in acute need of lifesaving assistance,” even if they are thousands of kilometres away?

We’re not talking about the richest country on Earth.

And Canadian students may be poor, they may make up 5.6 per cent of all food bank users in Canada, but very few of us, if any at all, are sleeping outside on the side of a cliff that might collapse at any moment from the downpour that’s been coming down for the last hours.

What is one lonely student to do?

I have made only two resolutions:

1- Drink less beer to give more time and money;

2- Divide my giving away money between home and abroad.

I don’t need an iPod, let alone a second one.

Call me a hippy, but what I need is to work on making the world a better place.

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