Outreach, Welfare

Up close with poverty

Abdul has a large family of twelve. One of his sons and a son-in-law were arrested for drug-related offences, and Abdul did not have the $5,000 needed for their bail. Another son, a teenager of 14, impregnated his girlfriend who was still studying.

To make matters worse, Abdul, a construction worker, fractured his arm on the job and became unable to work. The family had to depend on his wife’s salary of $280 a month as a cleaner. Faced with these multiple crises, the man said: “There are too many problems. I don’t want to care anymore.”

“Abdul” was a character played by a youth taking part in IN THEIR SHOES (ITS), a poverty simulation exercise conducted by Methodist Welfare Services (MWS). It was part of this year’s TRACKERS programme – a three-month-long discipleship programme for Methodist youths in transition, which involves biblical learning, mentoring relationships, mission exposure and local internship.

During the ITS exercise, the 39 Trackers were placed in real-life scenarios faced by people living in chronic poverty in Singapore. Each of them had a unique identity of a person in need. They experienced the same challenges faced by those in need, made choices – such as whether to stop their children from going to school to save money – and faced the consequences of those decisions.

These scenarios are samplings from the families that MWS helps under the Walk with the Poor Programme.

Most of these families face multiple challenges such as chronic health conditions, breadwinners who pass away unexpectedly or are incarcerated, children with special needs and adults with low-paying jobs. These are clearly multiple challenges without simple solutions.

To help people understand the complex challenges that families in need face, MWS intends to roll out the IN THEIR SHOES poverty simulation exercise to individuals, churches, and corporations.

The Rev Raymond Fong, the pastor in charge of TRACKERS, included the poverty simulation exercise in the programme because he wanted the participants to gain that understanding.

He said: “This was invaluable for the Trackers because it compelled them to empathise with the poor and needy. Through the exercise they had to consider how to manage very limited means in dire circumstances, an experience which is unique and enlightening given their backgrounds. I would recommend this exercise for future Trackers and Methodist churches.”

The simulation exercise made its mark on some of the participants.

Marie Ann Wong, 19, a Tracker from Aldersgate Methodist Church, said: “I found the exercise eye-opening because I grew up in quite a sheltered environment. During the exercise, I found myself having to constantly think about the things I had to accomplish. I also learnt that the needy not only require financial help, but support to reduce loneliness as well.”

19-year-old Michelle Koh (from Sengkang Methodist Church) also had an eye-opening experience: “I feel very exhausted mentally and physically as there is so much planning to do with time and financial constraints. I understand how these people cope with their lives and I really admire their mental strength to pull through.”

Ms Grace Lee, Senior Social Worker from Covenant Family Service Centre and one of the ITS facilitators, observed: “Depending on the participants’ age and background, the effect of experiencing poverty simulation can be quite different. The issue of teenage pregnancy really resonated with this group as they are from a similar age range.”

MWS Director of Communications and Fundraising, Ms Yap Lee Lee, adds: “IN THEIR SHOES is structured to educate. We hope to create deeper understanding of the plight of the poor, in order to inspire more people to step up and help the underprivileged.”

Trackers experiencing the decision-making dilemmas of chronically-poor families, such as: “Can our children afford to continue school?”
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Interested in having the IN THEIR SHOES poverty simulation exercise run for your cell group or church members?
CONTACT * Methodist Welfare Services at comms@mws.org.sg

Picture courtesy of Methodist Welfare Services

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Adeline Huang is an Executive (Communications and Fundraising) at Methodist Welfare Services, and worships at Christ Methodist Church.