The Poverty Simulation that took place at the Universities at Shady Grove (USG) campus was an eye opening event. Many times poverty is a phenomenon that is extremely misunderstood or ignored by individuals in our society. The way that the media presents what poverty looks like, it only taints the truth of what it means to live in poverty. There are several levels to poverty and the simulation helps to put that into perspective for participating volunteers.
The Poverty Simulation is run by the Missouri Association for the Community Action that operates in the state of Missouri. The company has 19 Community Action Agencies which functions “in every county to help people achieve self-sufficiency” (Missouri Association for Community Action, 2015). Karin Russ, a faculty member from the Maryland School of Nursing at USG coordinated the Poverty Simulation event on campus and invited many other disciplines to partake in the experience. Students from: Social Work, Public Health, Psychology, Criminal Justice and Nursing all worked together to accomplish one goal, Survival!
Each student upon walking into the room are assigned to a family and a card which describes their role and function within the family. Whether it be a troubled sixteen year old girl who is 5 months pregnant by her drug dealing boyfriend, or a father of 4 all under the age of seventeen, living off of food stamps. Regardless of your circumstances, you are still required to find a way to make it through each simulated “week”. The simulation lasted one hour (representing a month) and each fifteen minute block equated to one weeks’ time. Each family is given assigned roles (mother, father, daughter etc.). The duties of the parents included: reporting to work and paying the bills. It is up to each group to organize a plan of action. The first two weeks were somewhat manageable, but as the “weeks” passed, things quickly got out of hand and panic began to settle in across the room. To make matters worse, random acts of crime took place when families left their homes to go to work, school or social services appointments, setting the family up for perpetual failure. By the end of the “month” (end of the hour long simulation), some individuals were panting, many with looks of disappointment, terror and amazement. Mixed emotions indeed, but real none the less.
At the conclusion of the simulation, the event coordinator began to receive feedback from the volunteers about their feelings throughout the whole simulation, and the responses were interesting. One female nursing student mentioned that she felt much stress, where her heart rate increased significantly, and she began to sweat as a result. Another student mentioned how thoughts of stealing from others began creeping into his mind without thinking of the repercussions punishable by law, but only thoughts about surviving another day kept running through his mind.
Personally, I’ve shared very similar emotions as mentioned by the other students above. My shock finally settled in when I, (as many other volunteers have confessed) began to think of theft as a viable option, totally bypassing any established moral or ethical values I may have had. So, when I am asked, “How was the Poverty Simulation?” I simply respond, “Life changing!”