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Sikee Liu

Poor roots motivate poverty fighter

June 10, 2010

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In a sense, Sikee Liu's life has come full circle. Born into poverty on a farm in rural China, Liu immigrated to Canada in the 1980s at age seven.

This month, he receives his master’s degree in urban studies and will return to China on a two-year scholarship to study Chinese society.

In particular, he’ll explore factors that contribute to the vitality of Chinese street life, such as night markets, to see how they might be adapted to Canadian culture.

It’s an apt project. Liu is intimately acquainted with Vancouver’s street scene after spending the last six years as an outreach worker in the Downtown Eastside. He took the job to discover firsthand how and why people become homeless.

His goal was to fi nd ways to overcome poverty, which ultimately led to his enrollment in the urban studies program.

“I wanted to learn more about the forces and processes that contribute to the trajectory of human and urban evolution,” he explains.

He ended up concentrating on power relations. He had noticed a disconnect between the close-knit, caring community he witnessed on the job and the area’s negative portrayal in the media.

His thesis finds that in media coverage of the Downtown Eastside the views of those in power are always more prominent, which tends to further stigmatize the district’s reputation as “a tainted space".

What’s more, he says, “The media portray the actors of positive change as coming from outside the Downtown Eastside. Residents are not seen as actors for their own agency.”

Liu will spend the next two years researching in China before returning to Vancouver where he still plans to fi nd ways to alleviate poverty and achieve better social equality.

Because after experiencing both poverty and plenty in his own life, he says, “I feel like we should have a more equal world.”

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