Education, empathy engagement

By Qi Xijia Source:Global Times Published: 2015-12-2 18:43:02

There are thousands of words to define what it means to be poor, but in each of our subconscious the most direct interpretation is not having money. David J. Begbie from Crossroads Foundation, a Hong Kong-based nonprofit organization, hopes to narrow the gap between those who are in need and those who would like to help.

For 10 years Begbie and his team have been running cultural simulation programs called Global X-perience Simulation at educational institutions, business corporations and even the United Nations and the World Economic Forum. Over 140,000 participants have engaged in these events to address global issues such as poverty, HIV, natural disasters and refugee crises.

Most recently, Begbie brought his simulation program to Concordia International School Shanghai, allowing privileged foreign students an opportunity to role-play as an impoverished family living in a slum desperately trying to survive by making and selling paper bags.

"If your family earns less than a dollar a day, then your family is poor. The number of people in the world living on less than one dollar a day hovers at around 1 billion," said Begbie as he prepared his participants.

More real than books

The fast-paced interactive game throws participants directly into a web of poverty and hopelessness. Divided into "family units" and placed on a tiny white rug whose small size equates a crowded slum, they must make paper bags using newspaper and flour, then attempt to sell them to pay for rent, food and drink, sanitation and medicine.

At the end of each 10-minute session, those who failed to make money will be kicked out to live under a bridge or placed in the dangerous hands of loan sharks.

"For someone who spends as much time thinking about poverty as I do, it was still surprising for me," Kathleen Mahoney, a Concordia teacher who teaches global development and public health, told the Global Time after the simulation. "Like how we have to keep working, like the way there is trash everywhere, that is more real to me than books and films about this topic."

Begbie agreed that experiential learning has advantages over text books or documentaries. "We began to realize that education alone does not always help change behavior. Even if I show you thousands of photos (of poor people) you may not do anything differently. But we realized that when empathy arises in people they will take action."

To make the simulations more engaging and powerful, Begbie not only designs them based on consultations with people who have suffered from these issues but also hires them as his staff. "There is an authenticity because they have lived it," said Begbie.

Real change

Begbie admits that some sensitive people may misinterpret what he is trying to do with this program. "We want to be very sensitive to people who have had bad experiences. You want to bring a respectful tone to the simulation. Because if you come in pretending that you know everything about being poor, the whole message is broken."

Over the years Begbie has seen real change as a direct result of this program, including high school students becoming involved in charities, university students changing their majors to something more meaningful, companies starting community engagement programs and people quitting their lucrative jobs to work in the NGO sector.

"I have also seen charities established because of our program," said Begbie, who added that he is quite happy to see some schools in Shanghai teaching subject matter such as global development, which helps students relate to his cause.

"I help you to care, but I also have to help you understand what you can do," Begbie told the students at Concordia. "Our simulations have three values. We call them the "3-Es": education, empathy and engagement."

Students from Concordia International School Shanghai experience poverty simulation. Photo: Qi Xijia/GT


Posted in: Metro Shanghai

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