I’m always amazed at how new experiences provide different perspectives. Last week we had our rescheduled Community Action Week and it was a blast!
From crocheting plarn mats to a cooking competition with a twist, we had a lot of fun, but we learned a lot too; at least I did, and from the feedback received I would say others did as well.
There were a lot of memorable moments, but some of the highlights were the following:
COPE – Cost of Poverty Experience (aka poverty simulation)
I’ll admit it. I was a little skeptical we’d be able to pull this off. Don’t get me wrong, we had lots of volunteers who are familiar with the simulation, but I was new to this particular one, as was Hannah, who was helping set it up and make sure it went well. Yet, it was a success. I define success here as reading the evaluations and seeing how many folks indicated they better understood some of the challenges people living in poverty face.
I had the best role of all – time keeper and making sure things were going as “planned.” I got to observe and, wow, did I see a lot! I saw folks who were frustrated with having to fill out yet more paperwork. I witnessed how folks were polite to one another at the beginning of the simulation, but by the end, there was nearly pushing, shoving, and irritation when someone was in another person’s way. Time was running out and things needed to get done!
After the simulation, one college student who participated shared that she always thought that if someone was out of work, “just go get a job.” (Many people fall into the “why don’t they just get a job?” mentality.) During the simulation, her role was that of someone who was out of work, and she spent much of her time TRYING to get a job… and meeting transportation issues, jumping through hoops of paperwork, and so much more. She then understand that just getting a job isn’t always the easiest solution.
One participant, a dear lady who is in her later years of life shared that she has never experienced poverty. She’s had to live being mindful of her spending and “counting her pennies,” but never has faced the challenges of poverty. During the simulation, she found herself losing her children to social services, being taken to jail, and having to work extra hard for anything and everything she needed.
Another participant struggles from hearing loss and had a hard time following the instructions and what was happening. She shared that it gave her a better understanding of what folks with barriers might experience, whether it’s hearing loss, inability to read and/or write, language barriers, etc.
Poverty, Inc. screening and panel discussion
So this was an experience in and of itself. Have you seen Poverty, Inc? If not, I’d encourage you to watch it (it’s available on Netflix). Most of our panel did not agree with much of the documentary. I myself don’t agree with much of it, but I think it spurs great conversation and discussion. I also think it boils down to asking ourselves the difficult question: is what we’re doing helpful or harmful? I think we need to be brave enough to admit if it’s harmful and look for ways where we can turn those harmful things (even the best intentioned ones) into something really helpful. This could be a whole other blog… don’t get me started…!
Oh my goodness! I couldn’t believe how FUN this event was! We had three contestants and their helpers prepare food that would be found in a “typical” food pantry. Earlier in the day, Hannah and I went shopping, literally walking down the aisles, trying to find bizarre or difficult foods. We had a list, some things we knew we wanted to get, but then we were creative with the rest. Some of our more exciting finds were rutabaga (canned), nearly overripe prickly pears, and wilted basil, all of which are random things that sometimes end up in a food pantry. The contestants were great – they prepared a main dish and a dessert from the random things we had (including pink peeps!). We also allowed them to purchase penalties for their competition… things that simulated poverty and made it more difficult to prepare the meal.
While this event was super fun, I really do believe that the point was clear: it’s not always easy or possible to prepare healthy, delicious meals from the food found at a pantry. Add into that the challenges faced with lack of time, stress, and daily struggles, and it’s even more difficult.
I don’t pretend to believe that these events really give an accurate look into the life of someone living in poverty. Let’s face it. We do these (sometimes fun) things and see some of the struggles, but then we go back to our cozy homes, ways of life, habits and patterns, and we don’t really experience the reality of poverty. I do believe; however, that it’s a good way to begin to shift mindsets. To take some of the assumptions and judgments we have and confront them by experiencing life differently, even if only for a moment or a few hours.
That old adage of walk a mile in someone else’s shoes is so true. Even those of us who have an understanding of the challenges others might face don’t really get it because we aren’t living it. But, the more we learn and try to open ourselves to understanding, the easier it is to meet someone where they are, to treat them as a valuable human being, to not look down on them, but to begin to build relationships with folks who might be a little different than we are.
It’s not always easy and sometimes it takes a lot of time, effort and energy. But it’s crucial. It’s what Jesus did! He didn’t hang out with those who were like him, he took time to talk with the outsiders, like the woman at the well, the tax collectors, those who were the “other.” We need to do that too. And if it takes some fun or innovative simulations and events to start moving us in that direction, then sign me up!
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