Dec 132012
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Alberta's Child Well Being Initiative uses dolls to show how many kids go hungry.

by Penney Kome

At first glance, the photo looks like a quilt competition, with chains of women standing on the legislature steps, holding large brightly coloured sheets ruffling in the breeze. Ruffling? Yes, the quilts’ stripes are rows of paper dolls, and in Edmonton’s frigid blasts, anything not glued flat tends to ripple loose.  

Each doll represents a child, a child whose hands and feet are often cold in the winter, whose middle often feels hollow, whose head often aches from hunger, who knows not where the next meal or the next bed will come from. “The night before we delivered the paper dolls,” said Carolyn Pogue, “there were 21 guests in our church’s Inn from the Cold basement dormitory. Fourteen of them were children.”

An author and activist, Pogue used her column in the United Church Observer to promote the Child Well Being Initiative (CWBI) demonstration the Alberta legislature with paper dolls. “Children, teens, women and men — Girl Guides, faith groups, kindergarten classes, high school students –  they all cut paper dolls and sent them to us,” she said.

The majority (52 percent) of children living in poverty had at least one parent working full time, full year.

“The dolls came in every colour and size. They came with names, stories, prayers, clothes, faces. They were cut from Tim Horton's bags, old shopping lists, every kind of paper you can imagine. When we went to the Legislature, we had more than 100,000 dolls with us.”

Collecting the dolls and pasting them to banner displays was just the beginning. CWBI wanted to grab public attention for the issue. So they stood out on the cold steps of the legislature with their dolls on display, and listened to speeches.

“At 15 below zero,” said Pogue, “One hundred of us from every part of Alberta displayed the paper dolls,  listened to speeches by Sharon Prenevost, CWBI co-chair, Rachel Notley, NDP MLA, Dr David Swann, Liberal MLA, Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta and Joe Ceci, Executive Director of Action to End Poverty.”

Actually, Public Interest Alberta brought news – important news if not news anyone wanted to hear. Another 20,000 Alberta children have fallen into poverty since the 2010 update (which was based on 2008 data).  

“We planned to take 70,000 paper dolls there,” said Pogue, “each doll representing one Alberta child living in poverty. As it turned out, we had many more than that. Good thing. We learned that day, from the new report on poverty, that there are now 91,000 Alberta children living in poverty.”

Poverty Costs — Video from Action to End Poverty in Alberta and Vibrant Communities Calgary

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The Edmonton Social Planning Council, the Alberta College of Social Workers and Public Interest Alberta’s report –  one of many reports being released across the country by the national coalition, Campaign 2000 – revealed poverty increased dramatically in 2009.  Some of the main findings of the report include:

  •  91,000 children under the age of 18 were living below the low-income measure (LIM after tax), 11.3 percent of all Alberta children.
  • The poverty rate was higher for children under the age of six, with one in six children, (17.2 percent  = 48,200 children) below the LIM.
  • The majority (52 percent) of children living in poverty had at least one parent working full time, full year.
  • There is growing inequality in Alberta, with the wealthiest 10 percent of families seeing their incomes double in 20 years while the bottom 10 percent have seen only marginal increases.
  • The good news is that as that there was a 12 percent decrease in the number of children from the previous year and that the number of children lifted out of poverty by all government transfers has increased to 47.2 percent.  

“Government leaders must act to end child poverty,” says Lillian Stewart of Calgary, co-chair of CWBI. “Premier Redford committed to this in the spring. What’s the plan?”

The Initiative comes from front line volunteers, women in the United Church of Canada, and is supported by several dozen other groups, individuals and organizations. The women want:

  • school breakfast and lunch programs for any hungry child    
  • minimum wage raised to a living wage    
  • more affordable housing    
  • more accessible day care    
  • a poverty reduction strategy, as other provinces have.    

“When even UNICEF sees that Canadian children are suffering, it makes us realize that we have an emergency for the thousands of poor children in oil-rich Alberta,” the women declare. “There is no excuse. Nordic countries are far better at caring for their children than we are. Why?”

Carolyn Pogue becomes "Violet Flowers" to report on recent events.

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About Penney Kome

Penney Kome is an award-winning author and journalist who has published six books with major publishers. She is also the Editor of Straight Goods. She is co-editor with Patrick Crean of Peace: A Dream Unfolding (1986, Sierra Club Books). She started marching against the atomic bomb when the placards were taller than she was, and she emigrated from the US to Canada in protest against the war in Vietnam.

© Copyright 2012 Penney Kome, All rights Reserved. Written For:

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