Bee-ing There: Amelia Huang Enters the Hive
Amelia Huang, a LEDlab Project Coordinator, born and raised in East Van, describes the beginning of her journey into the world of bees and the culture of the hive. Amelia is a Master’s in Urban Studies student at SFU.
When I was little, my mom and I would often go, in our ancient, beat up Oldsmobile, down Powell Street to shop at the Sunrise Market – a long-standing family owned grocery. Some days, we would go up and down Keefer St. hopping from one vegetable stand to fish monger to another vegetable stand. The streets of Chinatown back then were teeming with so many people, old and young; we would have to elbow our way out of the stores. On special occasions, we took trips to Army & Navy for shoe sales, hot dogs and floors of odds and ends paraphernalia.
Two months ago, for the first time in many years, I began taking myself down Powell St. to shop at the Sunrise. Standing again in those narrow aisles evoked nostalgic reminiscence of the store and its sidewalk buzzing with life as people weaved between each other. Thankfully the store has remained the same, but the hubbub of human life has dimmed. A lot has changed in the neighbourhood since the 1990s.
What spurred my return to Powell St. was an internship with the Local Economic Development Lab (LEDlab) as a Project Coordinator with Hives for Humanity. Embedded in the Downtown Eastside, Hives for Humanity dedicates itself to bringing hope and self-worth to marginalised and disparaged individuals through the culture of the bee hive. They generate a variety of accessible and low-barrier activities and opportunities (such as beekeeping, gardening, honey extraction) for the community to participate. As an enterprising non-profit, revenues for Hives for Humanity flow both from funders such as the City of Vancouver and Vancouver Foundation, and from sales of honey and wax products.
I was entrusted with the role of activating and developing Hive for Humanity’s Bee Space into an accessible place of learning and sharing for community members to creatively flourish. I felt that my experience as a local business owner, festival coordinator and community advocate would perhaps impart enough insight for me to embark on this journey with confidence.
Into the Hive
Immersing myself in the culture of this hive and its inhabitants had its challenges. There were initial moments of feeling like an outsider, fearing that I had overstepped boundaries and failing to build trust. My notion that I could make a positive impact from the get-go, began to waver. Here I was, a stranger airdropped into a society with different language, protocol, and expectations. Even time passes a little differently here. Trying on my ethnographer hat, I tried listening for cues, to not speak insensitively, to be helpful where I could and keep out of the way where I could not.
The staff and volunteers at Hives for Humanity were courteous and accommodating, as you would be to a guest. I soon recognised this distance between us and indeed, I was a guest. For, unlike many of my new acquaintances, I had the privilege of coming and going. There had been many well-intending people coming in for a project and going when it was completed. In their eyes, I was probably no different. I found myself re-evaluating the dynamics of power and privilege, and my role in this project.
Building Bee Space
One morning in October, I stepped off a bus in the middle of Surrey to help the crew with the honey extraction process – both as a learning experience and out of a sincere desire to contribute. We rolled up our sleeves in a room filled with hundreds of honeybees and for the next six hours painstakingly picked the wax caps off the honeycomb. Standing covered in honey and bees, laughing and working with everyone – I realized two things. First, that small batch honey made respectfully to nature and to people is truly a labour of love. Secondly, that it is never too late for anyone to regain self-worth, as truly “the bees give people a reason to lift their head up”.
“The surface of the comb, and the space between – commonly referred to as bee space – is where honeybees communicate, care for one another and work together. Bee space is the space that is just right, where bees can work their best.” – Hives for Humanity