SICC organising poverty simulation classes

From ‘Singapore Island Country Club offers ‘poverty simulation class’ for members’, 5 Feb 2016, article by Francis Law, Today

At one of Singapore’s most prestigious country clubs, members will have a chance to see life from the perspective of those living on the poverty line, through a workshop conducted by a voluntary welfare organisation (VWO).

Called a poverty simulation exercise, the workshop was advertised in the Singapore Island Country Club’s (SICC) members magazine, and is set to be held next month.Typically conducted for schools and volunteers, it is the first time Methodist Welfare Services (MWS) is holding the workshop for a country club.

Participants will be called upon to role-play and manage challenging scenarios, like supporting a family and making ends meet on a meagre income while juggling health issues.

In Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, the two lookalike protagonists trade places to experience, respectively, poverty and royalty. Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd were the modern equivalent of Twain’s tale in the 1983 comedy Trading Places. In these stories, both characters learnt empathy and became better people for it.

In the reality series ‘The Simple Life‘, wealthy socialites Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie sign up for menial jobs to experience first hand life beyond the ivory tower. If you want the rich to really get their hands dirty, you’ll need more than a half day’s worth of placecards and lecture notes. You’ll need them to breathe the same air, eat the same food, do the same backbreaking work and shit in the same toilet bowl, as the common people.

Rent a flat above a shop, cut your hair and get a job.
Smoke some fags and play some pool, pretend you never went to school.
But still you’ll never get it right
‘cos when you’re laid in bed at night watching roaches climb the wall
If you call your Dad he could stop it all.
You’ll never live like common people – ‘Common People’, Pulp

It only seems fair that if a rich person pays money to experience what it’s like to be poor, then vice versa; the less privileged should be given the opportunity to ride a Lambo and eat expensive caviar, to experience first hand the trials and tribulations, so called ‘First World Problems’, that plague our superrich. In fact, some of our millionaires have reached across the poverty line, offering free Supercar rides for needy kids, which drew complaints for giving children false expectations of success. We complain if the rich pretend to be poor. We complain if the poor are given a glimpse of what it’s like to be rich.

In a poverty simulation class, I presume you set aside an imaginary budget for imaginary meals of rice, egg and cabbage soup without actually eating any of the stuff, all in an air-conditioned room with tea breaks serving macarons in between. Conversely, in a ‘superrich simulation’, you probably need to deal with simultaneous overseas calls, Whatsapp messages, SMSes, emails, and face the ordeal of opening your wallet and not being able to decide which credit card to use because you’ve so many of them, thereby appreciating your current derelict but simple life without having to have so many choices forced upon you. Decadence is for other people. I want to keep my rice and sardines lifestyle thank you very much.

Of course we’re not expecting rich people to go all Siddartha on us and start renouncing all worldly possessions and roam the country barefoot, but a ‘poverty simulation’ just doesn’t seem, for lack of a better world, GRITTY enough. It’s like going camping by the reservoir without the luxuries of a handphone or Wifi. You need to throw them to the wolves, start their own fires and chop their own wood, not bombard them with Powerpoint slides.


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