History of Beneath One Sky
The Holy Cross Mission Trips
In 2006, a young group of students from Surrey boarded a plane to the Philippines. It was the first time a group of students from Canada would go to that country to help build homes in a rural village created by Gawad Kalinga. Those students were unaware of what was to come in the two weeks they were to spend on the trip. It changed their lives forever.
Over a short period of time, they came to realize the hardships people living in poverty had to face in their daily lives. They noticed that although they had little, those people seemed happier. This stunned the students as they contemplated over why people could be so happy with so little in their hands. As they eventually found out, the reason was that the people were free of the burdens of greed and jealousy. They recognized that having homes were better than having houses and material possessions. They found love.
The students worked to build gardens, foundations of homes, stack bricks, make cement and many more tasks that helped build the Banyuhay village. Students became attached to the Sibol children who had nothing more to offer but smiles and inspiration. The most remembered day was the day they had to leave the villagers and break the life-lasting relationships they built with them. Tears filled the eyes of all the Holy Cross Mission Team members as well as the villagers and children. The emotional farewell ended in children trying to chase the buses with the students until they realized they could not come with them.
The mission team realized at this moment how much of a hero they became for the people of Banyuhay. This realization gave the students hope and passion that began the Holy Cross Community Service Club, started many projects such as the 30 Hour Famine and most importantly, gave the students strength to speak of their experiences and reach out to the world.
The Holy Cross mission trips continued every year with a new group of students to experience that eye-opening opportunity. After many fundraisers and months of planning, 30 senior students and 6 teachers, including 1 enthusiastic priest stepped onto Philippine soil, already feeling the climate difference, ready to take on the twelve days of exhaustion that would change their lives in turn… The work was definitely worth it, as those students, too, found love, and a spark of change for the good was lit in their hearts.
Annual Benefit Concerts and Creating Beneath One Sky
In the weeks that followed their 2009 Philippine Mission Trip, a handful of students, fully inspired by their mission, organized their first benefit concert called “Building Homes for the Poor.” After graduating high school, that core group of students, led by Shantelle Medel, decided to continue their work in spreading the awareness of poverty through annual benefit concerts entitled “Building for Hope”.
In 2010, the group officially named themselves “Beneath One Sky”, continuing their benefit concerts, and establishing a student club at Simon Fraser University. Since then, Beneath One Sky has organized various fundraisers in addition to the concerts, found new members and friends, collaborated with other organizations, and raised enough money for supplies, food, and homes for the homeless in Vancouver and in the Philippines. BOS hopes to keep spreading the awareness of poverty, and eventually be able to help more countries in need.
A testimonial written by a Beneath One Sky member from SFU:
- It was the start of my second semester and I had just returned from summer break and a two week trip to Asia. Two girls were sitting together behind a table amidst many other club tables for SFU’s biannual club day. Their table display was noticeably simpler than those surrounding them; all they had was a brightly hand-painted banner, self-printed brochures, and a tri-fold poster board with photos glued onto every inch. Pictures of people around my age with dirty, sweaty faces stared brightly back at the camera, lit up by huge smiles. Although their booth seemed to be swallowed up behind the professional, full-blown posters and banners and loud dance music blaring from the adjacent tables, they seemed to stand out to me. Maybe it was because they seemed the most modest of the club booths. Or maybe it was because their display simply looked crummy compared to everyone else’s.
As I walked up to their table, the two girls smiled at me and introduced themselves as Shantelle and Felice, and proceeded to tell me about their relatively new club. They were a non-profit group raising awareness of local and global poverty and making its own, small impact on the issue itself through various events like their annual benefit concert. Unlike the clubs I had just finished visiting which had recited their club description and mechanically proffered their mailing list sheet to me almost indifferently, this one seemed genuine and warm. But more than that, there was something indescribably different about this group, something that the other humanitarian clubs I’d just checked out lacked. I decided to leave my name and e-mail and, as I bent down to sign their mailing list sheet, I noticed out of the corner of my eye one of the girls, Felice, fist pump.
I left their booth laughing to myself and with the resolve that I would attend their first meeting the following week.
Six months and two semesters have passed since that day and it feels like a lot has happened. I got to throw a number of whipped cream pies at people (for a good cause, of course, but I won’t lie: it was insanely satisfying), wake up extra early on cold, Saturday mornings for the gratitude and smiles of the homeless along Hastings street (initially, I thought it was crazy but after my first Backpack Run, I realized it was well worth it), and achieved a shared third place in a large, organized game of “tag”, of which the exact details of how that standing came to be is still being debated today.
A lot has changed as well.
During my time in Asia, I encountered some truly disturbing examples of poverty in China and Thailand. In Macau, China, expanses of open-air dumps literally sat next to incredibly lavish, newly-constructed condo buildings, casinos, and designer strip malls. Heaps of trash lay everywhere, materials for the homeless who lived in the dumps to build their shelters with amongst the garbage and filth. In Bangkok, prostitution and human trafficking were evidently popular with the older gentlemen (usually European or American) who towed along with them younger, starved-looking Thailand women who spotted the endless sea of crowds like weeds. And in every market, ferry terminal, and well-trafficked area I visited, children in ratty clothes were exploited as street hawkers by thuggish men who stood nearby, watching their charges run from tourist to tourist, tugging sleeves and proffering wilted roses.
But even then, I still saw these people simply as something to be pitied, not quite individuals of significance. That notion seemed to be hidden behind the fact that there were innumerable similar cases everywhere I looked. I never truly saw them as people, someone with a story. And I never even considered that their story could, as corny as it sounds, move me and maybe even inspire.
But I met the people at Beneath One Sky, people I’ve begun to call my close friends. Their perspective on poverty was refreshingly optimistic and it woke me out of the sense of numbing hopelessness I had begun to feel whenever I thought back to my time in Asia and the shameful, inexplicable injustice that I felt was poverty. They—we are just a small force, perhaps only scratching the surface of the issue but modestly doing its part nevertheless and encouraging others to get educated about poverty and join in the fight. Fueled by the stories of people who have risen from their past, people who are still living it, and tales from a friend of a friend, the undeniable fact is continually hammered down by each them: we are all individuals, perhaps each a person from a different place, a different culture, or a different social class but we all live in one world, under one sky.
We walk on the cold streets of Hastings, Vancouver twice each month in smalls groups carrying our backpacks and grocery bags filled with food and blankets, bundled up against the morning chill. But we all have big smiles and our laughter and light-hearted chatter can be heard from across the street. We’re hoping we can make someone’s day just a little better today, maybe through a free granola bar, a warm smile, or maybe a just a willing ear to listen to them and their complaints or even their unexpected life stories, anything that makes the homeless feel like they’re human beings and not something insignificant to ignore and pass by. And perhaps they don’t know, but their story helps us just much as it helps them, maybe more.
I’m thankful our display was crummy that September day.
Jason Lin | 2011