This week was a really busy one in SKIP but the kind that helps me feel connected with the work we are doing because we were giving out school supplies to all the families. Well, I say giving out, but actually these days the families choose the supplies themselves, we just provide a voucher for the stationery store, Copy Ventas, and they are able to select the things they need.
On the first morning, we were a little anxious about how things would go because last year there were huge delays and people had to wait for hours to get served. There were two of us working the line, giving out vouchers and generally making sure things were organised. Upon arrival, just before 8.30am, there was already a queue of over 20 families so we knew that the start was going to be a bit chaotic. As the first three families went to the open tills, we waited. And waited. As the minutes ticked by we started to feel a bit worried as it became clear this was going to be a very slow process. Memories of last year and the long delays began to creep into my mind and I started to doubt that we had learned enough to make the process efficient.
I realised that there was a bit of a discussion going on at one of the tills and I walked over, the shop assistant was saying, “No, sir, you have to go back to the line. No! You have to wait your turn…”
I leaned towards to the father to listen to what he was saying, he was very calm. As many of the fathers we work with are, he was a little unsure of himself and he laughed a bit in that way you do when someone is being kind of unreasonable to you and you feel powerless to do anything else. “Yes, I know,” he was saying, by this point I was guiding him away from the till so we could talk, he continued, “I want to know if you can give us a price list of the items we can choose, so we can prepare what we want to buy before we get to the till.”
And there it was, so simple, the reason why this was all taking so long and another reminder of how easy it is to disempower people even when you have the best intentions. Without prices, no one could prepare a list that added up to the amount that they had to spend, which meant they were taking twice as long at the till. I remembered my frustration and confusion about how long the shop assistants were taking at the tills last year, I hadn’t thought to consider how that process was working.
We printed lists of prices and set to work. For those who were able to work independently, they did the calculations themselves. For others, we worked with them to make the calculations and some families also needed help to decide what they wanted to buy. Time at the tills halved and then quartered.
In moments like these, I am reminded how hard it is to have empathy. How we forget to step out of our narrow perspective and look through someone else’s eyes. How difficult it is to understand the experience of any situation when you are not living it. Most of all, I am reminded to listen.
~ Liz Wilson, SKIP Director