23 Aug 2012
Today I had to prostitute myself in order to be able to feed my family. Even though we've worked very hard in order to pay for food and rent, it was not enough and we had to take this decision, for the good of the whole family.
Obviously this didn’t happen to me in real life, but today I’ve realised this was the life of millions of women on the planet. Thanks to Crossroads Foundation, I had a glimpse of what it is like to live in slums and earn around two dollars a day – like a third of the world's population, through the Struggle for Survival paper bag simulation.
In the simulation, participants try to earn enough to survive by making paper bags out of newspaper and home-made glue. They must earn enough to pay for rent, food, sanitation, medical needs and, if they are fortunate, education. Those that cannot make it end up in the hands of a loan shark.
In order to prevent this simulation from failing to give a realistic, or even a respectful, representation of displaced people, Crossroads Foundation have both refugee and NGO representatives work together on all parts of the simulation: the story line and its trueness to life, the props and set that best reflect reality and the points they consider of critical importance for participants to take away.
Also, those running the simulation are volunteers, and those who participate are not asked for money, as the primary goal of the simulation is consciousness raising. As the Chinese proverb puts it: "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."
After I 'did' it, what struck me was the gap, even when you are an empathetic and imaginative person, between our understanding of poverty before and after the experience: while you 'struggle for survival' you soon realise that poverty is not just about lacking money, but also about the constant pressure and fear, about having to quickly lower your morals (by stealing or prostituting yourself), about regularly making some of the toughest life decisions, such as choosing between food or health, or about not even having the time to think about health or education…
What also came out very clearly is how poverty is an implacable vicious circle: once you’ve started to lose the 'game', it becomes more and more difficult to come back, until it simply becomes impossible.
A few RICS members of staff attended the session this week. Mark Goodwin, RICS Director of External Affairs, said: "This was a stunning experience – a shocking insight into the drudgery and desperate decisions that face billions in their everyday struggle to survive. It was also a chance to promote RICS’ and RICS members’ work in international sustainable development and disaster management to a key agency aiming to harness expertise to tackle extreme poverty."
Indeed, through a number of activities RICS contributes to sustainable development and undertakes volunteering and charity work.
Crossroads Foundation is a Hong Kong based, non-profit organisation serving global need. The foundation believes that, in a broken world that sees too much suffering, they should link those who are in need with those who can provide help by providing an intersection, literally a crossroads.
A number of high-level figures have already participated in the Struggle for Survival experience, including Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations; Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Management Ltd; Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman of the Board, Nestlé; and Raju Narisetti, Managing Editor, Washington Post.
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