Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Raising Youth's Awareness about Poverty

Last Wednesday I planned an awesome youth activity for youth group to get the youth thinking about poverty especially the poverty in their home area of Port Huron through the use of computer and video interaction!! Young people (myself included) have grown up in a world of computers and technology and I wanted to bring that into our youth group time to give it some pizzazz.  

After our brief discussion after watching a YouTube video on childhood poverty, I split the youth up in groups. Then I introduced them to a poverty simulation that was first introduced to me in my applied ethics class in college (playspent.org). I encourage you to give it a try if are not familiar with it already! Basically it's simulation where you are a single parent with $1000 in savings who has lost their job and house. You then have to make it through the month providing food, shelter, etc. for your family. Through the month the program then has random scenarios pop up where you are forced to make a choice like "your child is invited to a birthday party: do you send the kid with a $15 present, send your kid with no present, or tell your kid they can't go." 

This is where things really started getting interesting for the youth!! First of all, most of them do not have adult responsibilities like having a job or other people to care for so they had to adjust to making those decisions. For instance, one group made it to day 8 before they 'lost,' which basically means they spent all their money and used all their alternative money resources (like stealing from their kids piggy bank or donating plasma). You know things like health insurance sound like a good idea, but if you are not used to budgeting, you may not prioritize accordingly. Eventually they were able to figure out how to make it through the month, but they still had things like payday loans or having their car repossessed, which is to be expected given the simulation. 

Oh dear! Did personalities start coming out!!! Some youth have very strong opinions.(surprise surprise)

Person A: "WHO CARES our kid can't play sports!! We can't afford it!!!"

Person B: "But if our kid does sports then we can work more and it will keep them off the streets. Plus, it will keep them active."
 
Person A: "BUT we CANT AFFORD IT!!"

Person B: "You're right $50 is a lot.... can't we do something!?!"

Person A: Like WHAT?!?! There's no money.

Person B: I guess you are right...

Trust me it was fun overhearing the conversations as the tension in the room rose. However, the one major dividing issue for the youth was toilet paper.... TOILET PAPER!! Ironically enough it was the men in the group who were the most opinionated on this issue.

"We HAVE to have toilet paper," the men would insist.

"But if we don't get toilet paper, we can save $4 and that will help us buy chicken for the children. Besides aren't YOU a boy scout??"

"No no what does being a boy scout have anything to do with this!?! Feed them ramen noodles. We can survive off that. We NEED toilet paper."

Needless to say youth group was very interesting. I didn't have time to get to my "God" part of the lesson so we are doing that this week. We are going to tackle big questions that I don't have answers too. Questions like "Why does God let bad things happens?" and "why does poverty exist?" Yeah.. I don't really have answers for that, but I have lots of ideas! In any case, I find that when I don't know the answers to our youth topics it opens the discussion to be more like a dialogue where we all have things to contribute to the conversation.

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