It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. I imagine that I’ll use about that many to tell the story of this particular picture and how the image of something in your mind can develop as it’s processed into a final picture.
In my journey as an early care and learning advocate, there has been a wide range of emotions that either sparkle or sabotage each idea that I entertain. Linearly, the journey has been relatively short. I returned to school in September of 2013.
Before entering into the early childhood education program, I recognized the need for professional advocacy when I was faced with the bombardment of doubt as to why I would want to go back to school to be a “babysitter,” instead of a “real” teacher?
As a student, I was educated about the childcare crisis facing our country. I soon understood the need to advocate for families who had come to accept that, in the years before their child turned 5 years old, care and learning was an individual responsibility.
As a passionate educator, I understand the need to advocate for children and their right to quality care and learning. I understand the early years as being fundamental to the development and wellbeing of an individual. I recognize that ideologically, our nation, my home, has an obligation to stand up for our future leaders.
My advocacy has come mostly in the form of brainstorms that pour before the clouds are fully saturated. Ideas that conjure themselves from a collection of things I’ve seen or imagined, that confide in the spark in another person’s eye. I’ve shared my ideas often before they’ve fully formed and I’ve hosted events where the agenda is simply, the energy. I’ve made more than a few heads spin—some, not in good ways. I’ve brainstormed and poured ideas onto the neatly organized desks of a few whom were left wringing out their papers and shaking their heads as I delightfully splashed in puddles on my way out.
I’ve sung in the rain.
I’ve sung in the rain amongst a circle of advocates united in a park one Saturday in May. The clouds gathered to set the mood, the tone of which some of these advocates had been up against for decades. However, for the majority of us this was our first battle cry and so it came out as more of a song. We welcomed the public to learn more about early childhood education, and why it mattered to society. We collected signatures of community members in support of a $10aDay Child Care Plan. We chased the clouds away and then celebrated with a lap around the park led by a carnival band. Before leaving, a veteran advocate thanked me and shed a tear. It meant so much to her to know that there were young advocates entering into this field and that perhaps the efforts of her generation would become a legacy, instead of a memory.
Soon after the event in the park, I graduated and changed cities. I was quickly overwhelmed and exhausted from the reality of starting my career. As a student, I had known theoretically that the childcare crisis was a systemic problem. As a professional, I entered into the system. In this profession it is seen as out-of-place, too political, to talk to the families whose children are in my care, about childcare advocacy. The place to talk about advocacy seems to be away from the families that I am advocating for. Although I’m not entirely satisfied with this line, I know which lines not to cross.
Statistics being as they are, I know that 4 of 5 families with children under the age of 5 will be struggling to find childcare, and I can advocate with them. I also know that many of the families, including those at my centre, are challenged by the cost of child care and so I hope to see them somewhere in public, so that we can be on the front lines, without crossing some line that keeps childcare as a side issue.
I decided that I wanted to create a poster to show people, rather than tell them, what these grim statistics looked like. The reality—that there are only enough childcare spaces for 1 in 5 children in British Columbia! I pictured pregnant women, such an iconic image of protection, love, and security, hope. I pictured them sharing the odds that their unborn children are up against.
I found a photographer willing to shoot the project for free. I found a group of pregnant women willing to have their bellies painted. I found two young children willing to finger-paint the bellies. I found a date and a time that worked for everyone.
I soon found out that the photographer cancelled. I found a new photographer. I found out that if you give a child all of the bright colours, that child can mix them all to make brown. I found out that not all of the people who reply “yes” on Facebook would actually attend an event. I found out that even though eight pregnant women confirmed, you still might only end up with four.
I found an extra black shirt. I found myself painting my own stomach with clay. I found one of the child artists and asked her to paint me like the other women. I found myself, embarrassed, and humbly posing as a pregnant woman. I found the photos uncomfortably convincing.
I found comfort in sharing with my femtors. I found it exciting to share when it was an idea. I found it embarrassing to share when it was messy. I found it satisfying to share as a poster. I found it reassuring and inspiring to stand side by side with women as a part of a social movement, a part of history. A part of Her-story. Part of Our-story.
This picture, this one thousand words, these connections—this is how I advocate.
Lindsay Lichty is a Early Child Educator and advocate in Victoria, BC