Each year, SIFAT (Servants in Faith and Technology) hosts a training event on the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. This year approximately 200 people came from six states, including a number of towns in Alabama, to participate in SIFAT's 48-hour Slum Experience.
The staff and volunteers for 48 hours lived out the roles of vendors, labor bosses, the slum lord, gang leaders, drug dealers, religious leaders, and poor residents. Some were thieves in their struggle to survive, and some were compassionately trying to help others with the little they had. The volunteers were mostly former SIFAT staff, students or interns who had been through other programs at SIFAT and returned to help these new youth and their leaders to experience some of the realities of our world.
The students were placed in families. Each family group struggled together to find jobs so that they could rent a dilapidated shelter of some kind and buy food and water to survive the two days and nights. They really felt the cold, but were thankful that it was not a rainy weekend.
This annual retreat gives youth and their leaders an opportunity to experience life as nearly 1 billion of our earth's population around the world who live in slums every day. This simulation event is one of the most challenging experiences SIFAT offers. It was a great opportunity for connecting students to other areas in our world and to people from other socio-economic groups that they may never get to experience otherwise. Some of the complex reasons for poverty became evident during these 48 hours. Afterward, they reflected on what this experience of walking in the shoes of the poor means for them.
Current statistics found on the Internet (by googling "A Dollar a Day" and other sites) tell us that over half the world's population lives on less than two dollars and a half a day. One out of every three children lives in inadequate housing and one out of every five children in our world has no access to a clean water source.
These statistics came alive to the 200 people participating in this slum event at SIFAT this past weekend. After 48 hours, they all left to go back to a warm home and enough food. Before leaving one of the boys said, "We can go home, but what about the billion people in the world who have no other place to go? We have to do something to help them get a start to a better life!"
It is hoped that all of the participants have been moved to study the roots of poverty and what we all can do to help the extremely poor be able to provide their own basic human needs.