By Adam Prudhomme
Students at NDSS were reminded of what they had to be thankful for last Wednesday as they took part in the second annual Poverty Challenge.
Organized by the Napanee Area Community Health Centre, the challenge is held in partnership with several local social service agencies who had representatives on hand for the challenge.
“The Poverty Challenge is basically giving students a day in the life of someone in poverty,” explains Brittany Couto, community development worker with NACHC. “They’re given a scenario that is very realistic of someone’s situation while living in poverty. They’ve given a glimpse of what their life looks like.”
The students then get to simulate the life of an impoverished person living in L&A as they are head out into the school hallways in search of reps from the various agencies.
“They’re sent to different social service agencies within the school that have been set up and they try to solve all their issues,” said Couto. “Most of the students have a lot of difficulties getting through the scenarios and get turned away by a lot of the different services and wind up frustrated and don’t really know what their next step should be.”
The agencies attempt to be as realistic as possible and would show the students how the various bureaucratic red tape could prevent them from getting access to the help they need.
“It was a really eye opening experience to see how hard it is not only to find the service in the first place but get accepted to each service without already having one,” said Bill Hoyle, a student who took part in the challenge. “If you go to Service A they might say you need Service B but to get Service A you need Service B in the first place.”
Hoyle’s group was given the scenario of a woman named Stacey. A victim of an abusive relationship, she was trying to start a new life after leaving her partner and taking along her two kids. She hadn’t worked in eight years, had no income and was now homeless while also suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder.
“It’s easy to sympathize but it’s really hard to relate because it’s so different than any experience anyone I know is dealing with. It’s just a really eye opening experience,” said Hoyle.
Emma Cronkwright, another student who took part in the challenge, echoed those sentiments.
“Going into it I thought it would be just sitting in the gym and talking to people,” she said of her expectations of the challenge. “But to actually go around and go through the process was very eye opening and humbling to see. I’ve never had to deal with any of this. To see what people have to deal with on a daily basis, it was unimaginable.”
For her case, she was given the character of Joe. He is an arborist who hurt his leg while on the job and was unable to work. His company doesn’t have employee insurance and his wife made too much money to qualify for government assistance. The money she does make has to go towards Joe’s medical bills and leaves no money left over for the essentials of life.
“Not only is it because people can’t afford food or whatever they need as the reason they’re impoverished, but also just a simple workplace accident could cause this as well,” said Cronkwright. “That’s all it takes for someone’s life to fall apart like that.”
The Poverty Challenge organizers say the purpose is to not only show students what life is like for some members of their community, but to also encourage them to want to make a difference.