The Other Side of Washington D.C. by Ruth Herlihy

As the saying goes appearances can be deceptive. Open any book on Washington D.C and prepare to have your breath taken away by the spectacular architecture and sights that this city has to offer. Throughout my day I come across smartly dressed men and women who are well educated. I have been fortunate enough to meet inspirational leaders who are at the top of their field such as E.J Dionne and Jake Sullivan. My impression of D.C was somewhat superficial. I thought the city was perfect. Everyone on the surface lived such enjoyable and fortunate lives.

Open a book about D.C and there are certain pictures that you won’t see. You won’t see the poverty, homelessness or the disparities between classes. You won’t see the hardship that individuals in this city have to face day in and day out in order to support their family and make ends meet. How is it possible that in the city where the American government holds its headquarters that these problems are so prominent yet so hidden? The media does not draw attention to these socio economic issues. The media favours the glamorous lives of the politicians who run in and out of the capitol in their suits accompanied by their briefcases.

I had heard the odd word of this other side to D.C. Basically that if I was ever to get lost on the metro, no matter what, don’t get off in Anacostia. Yesterday my eyes were open to this other world. While getting caught up in one world I never thought that there could be another side just around the corner.

I was fortunate enough to be taken along with the other summer associates at Crowell and Mooring to firstly an organisation called Bright Beginnings which teaches and cares for homeless children. It was great to see such hard working and dedicated people to such a worthy cause. This organisation gives hope to those that think there is none and gives children the opportunity to play and learn in a safe environment.

We were then brought to SOME (so others may eat). This organization is fortunate enough to have financial backing from several donors. They run a dentist and medical centre and also an open kitchen for those who are without food. We we’re given the opportunity to help with the giving out of dinner. While I stood serving out coffee, one man just kept talking to me, making random comments and made me realise that sometimes all people want is a chat, to have company.

We were then brought out to Anacostia and it is so uplifting to see people so involved in the development and enforcing the importance of education in disadvantaged areas.

The Washington Ireland Program is a program committed to service and leadership. Yesterday I was humbled by the commitment at the people working in these three organizations and how well they demonstrated leadership. These people go into work every day not for money, not for gratitude but to make a difference in people’s lives. The people I met in these organizations are leaders in their community, and I personally feel it is such a shame that they are not given public recognition for their tremendous efforts and determination.

I came home yesterday and felt uplifted and inspired to make a change. As Mahatma Gandhi once said “be the change you wish to see in the world”.