Earlier this month we asked our CISL students a question: If you could switch places with another person, who would it be? And why?

As always, we were amazed by the responses (and by the English abilities of our students!). Our winner, Hélène Dallaire, wrote an incredibly thoughtful answer. We hope you enjoy.

Thank you, Hélène, for such an insightful answer!


If I could switch places with another person…

This is a strange idea. Why would I want to switch places with another person – even for a day? It took me so long to be the person I am, I don’t want to change my life, even for a single day. I’ve thought about it and I can’t figure it out. With whom would I want to switch places? A princess maybe? No, that’s a child’s wish – just nonsense. And everybody knows that being a princess is not a party. You don’t have a single moment for yourself, you’re always surrounded by paparazzi stalking you. Foolish! I feel good in my life. I’m managing to reach my goals and things are just fine. I’m happy, what else could I wish for? Nothing.

But I know someone who really switched his life, and not for the best. It happened when a television network asked for two volunteers to live for two months on the income of a person living on social assistance. That means an income of $19,47 per day. My friend Pierre Cote, an advertising specialist aged 53, took up the challenge. So, on a beautiful summer day, he was dropped in Montreal with only a back pack, and he had to find a place to stay and food to eat on this tiny income .

It was a huge change for Pierre. He was used to living on a very comfortable income, wearing nice clothes and eating in good restaurants. And then, he had to manage with only $19,47 a day! It was a really big challenge for him, but he wanted to do it because he was curious and very concerned about the situation of the poor. It was not easy – he had to share a shoddy apartment with someone else and he was always in search of food deals. With such a small income, Pierre noted that every quarter counts and no unnecessary spending is workable. In fact, he declared that it’s impossible to survive on such an income. He was so strapped for cash that he actually accepted to work for “money under the table”. But, the production team caught him and reduced his income, just as the government does if they catch you. However, he found that social assistance beneficiaries aren’t all cheating the government. In fact only 5% or 6% of them do, which it’s not more then the income tax fraudsters.

Finally, after this difficult experience, Pierre thinks that we shouldn’t “bash” social assistance beneficiaries. “These people are trying to make the best living possible, while dealing with inherited problems of family violence and substance abuse. Maybe, it would be a good idea to increase their income. It would permit them to be less stressed and to think about a solution to get rid of this plight”, observed Pierre. This experience definitively changed his way of seeing things and he is now volunteers to help the poorest. He gives talks about his experience in the hope that it will change minds.