Some students prepared to go home last weekend and give thanks for the comforts in their lives. About 60 College students experienced voluntary poverty instead.
At Princeton University on Nov. 22, Daniel Mutter, senior philosophy major, organized a group of College students for a poverty simulation.
Marcia MacKillop of the Crisis Ministry coordinated the event, according to Mutter. The Rev. Lisa Caton of the Canterbury House Episcopal Church at the College sent out the initial information.
One goal of the program was to “bring students together from the different faith groups on campus,” Mutter said.
The Bonner Center also sent a number of volunteers. Mutter estimated the total number of student participants to be 60. The program was an intensive simulation.
“All of the participants were given the identity of someone who was impoverished,” Mutter said. “Over the course of an hour, we tried to simulate living a month as this person.”
Different ages, marital statuses and poverty levels were explored. It was also a realistic role-play situation.
“Kids had to go to school, parents to work, groceries had to be gotten, bills had to be paid,” Mutter said. “Families had to organize transportation, the bank foreclosed houses, (and even) people were robbed.”
Awareness as well as understanding were goals of the simulation, according to Mutter. He said, “The purpose of the event was to promote awareness of the conditions and lifestyle that impoverished people are in every day.”
Mutter said he learned an important lesson about people living an impoverished life from the simulation.
“You realize,” he said, “that poverty is not something people choose to be in.” He added, “Since it is a reinforcing cycle, it is not for lack of trying or hard work that people remain in that cycle.”
Participants were given the chance to reflect on their different experiences in a debriefing session at the end of the day. Mutter thought this sharing of thoughts was the most important part of the simulation.
He hoped participants could “walk away with a more personal understanding of the realities of poverty and ideally the motivation to take action to promote a change.”
The simulation was “definitely a learning experience,” Mutter, who never experienced such a demonstration, said. He strongly believes the program provided participants with an awareness of the hardships of living in poverty.
“As long as everyone walked away with nothing more than having taken the simulation seriously and spent time contemplating what they had just done, it could be considered a success,” Mutter said.