“It was hell!” one participant said when experiencing what it feels like to be poor in the poverty camp simulation that AIDSLink held in Pretoria, South Africa for a partner organisation.
In the simulation, families lived in shacks and made bags out of newspapers to sell in order to pay their landlord, for food, schooling for their child, etc. AIDSLink played the roles of the shopkeepers, landlords, development workers, pimp and human trafficker.
If the families could not make enough money to pay their landlord, they were evicted to the garbage dump. Some families never made it back out of the garbage dump and spent the entire time there.
One family sent a daughter off to school, only to find out later that she had been captured and sent to work in the brothel. Only five families managed to send a child to school (and two of those were sponsored by the development worker).
Denise describes her experience.
“I have seen a lot of poverty, but being that person, where all the choices of how to survive came at me, made it more real. You get so tired that you make decisions you normally wouldn’t make. I was sold to a brothel and it was my choice, because I knew my family could then pay our landlord.”
In relation to how she will apply lessons learned to helping the poor, Denise said,
“I can’t always change people’s circumstances, but I can help them dream. It’s getting them past survival. When I see a deeply abusive situation, it breaks my heart, so I am drawn to help. I look to the young person’s community and connect them with resources that can help them out of the poverty cycle.”
Naudeen added her thoughts about the simulation facilitators,
“You broke my trust. Because you are development workers, I thought you’d take me out of the situation.”
Another participant summed it up,
“The opposite of poverty is not wealth--it’s justice.”
The reason the poor stay poor is injustice. We haven’t given them a vision.