By Taijah Cox-Armstrong – When the world begins to fall apart, we humans need to stick together. My name is Taijah Cox-Armstrong. I’m in my second year of college at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, and a passionate advocate for human rights. In 2019, I set out on a grassroots mission to address homelessness in my hometown of Brampton, Ontario through education and action. The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened my commitment to helping the most vulnerable among us, and inspired my roommate, Rhea D’souza, and I to mobilize for those currently experiencing homelessness here in the Ottawa area.

I feel like the word “homeless” is often generalized and taken out of context. We’re too quick to judge and too slow to learn about the different circumstances that cause people to fall on hard times, find themselves without shelter, or lack the means to sustain themselves. As a community, we need to stop being uninformed and start speaking up about things that aren’t right. As individuals who, like me, believe in everyone’s right to life, liberty and security, as promised in section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we must act to make a difference for others.

This passion is what sparked the first donation drive I ever facilitated in 2019. With the help of my amazing family and friends, I was able to collect over 300 donations, which allowed me to make 120 care packages. Each included toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash, soap, shampoo, a first aid kit, socks, cookies and a bottle of water. My cousin, my mother and I distributed them directly to individuals living on the streets of downtown Brampton, the ninth-largest city in Canada.

In the last few weeks, as the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to take a huge toll on society, my roommate, Rhea, and I decided to start a small organization – The Lotus Project – to directly support those in need in the Ottawa area. In Buddhism, the lotus flower is a powerful symbol of purity and enlightenment because while the plant grows in muddy water, the delicate and beautiful flower rises above the murk to bloom brilliantly on the surface. The lotus flower is a symbol to rise above the bad things that happen in your life, and that is what our organization is offering individuals.

With the help of a generous donation from a greatly appreciated supporter, The Lotus Project was able to create and hand out 11 care packages, each consisting of toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash, soap, a first aid kit, socks, cookies, a bottle of water, and a note that said “be safe, better days coming”. As we distributed the care packages, social distancing and safety precautions were strictly followed for everyone’s safety.

While our distribution goal was much higher, the ongoing and worsening spread of COVID-19 has forced us to put a temporary hold on our donation drive. We have plans to resume once we are able to safely and effectively distribute our care packages to those in need.

Through our work, so far, we have gained numerous supporters within our university community and in the larger Ottawa community. People are eager to get involved, flooding our emails with ideas and donations. What we are asking for now is continued support, via our GoFundMe, in preparation for our next donation drive that will take place in the coming months. Follow us on our Instagram – @TheLotusProject.ig – for updates.

We are all capable of making a difference. There’s no doubt about that. But who is actively ready to help make changes within their community? Who is strong enough to fight and speak up for those without a voice? Who is ready for change?

All photos courtesy of Taijah Cox-Armstrong