Hungry for the experience

Going hungry is not a holiday idea most students would readily take to.

However at two events last month, some teens plucked up the courage to take part in "poverty" projects. Some subsisted on $2 a day and others abstained from solid food for 30 hours. As part of their service learning projects and for some, personal experience, they chose to share the plight of 1.2 billion people worldwide who live in extreme poverty.

Students from St Joseph's Institution (SJI) International turned the first week of last month into Action For Poverty Week, during which students lived on $2 a day for five days in a bid to raise $4,000. The money will go towards building a classroom for The Bamboo School, an orphanage in rural Thailand. Together with other fund-raising efforts during the week, the students managed to raise $4,150.

Meanwhile, about 1,000 young people from more than 60 schools signed up for World Vision's 30-Hour Famine Camp. During the camp, held at Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road), they abstained from solid food.

The international advocacy group's event brought to the fore global poverty-awareness. For a $45 fee, the camp allowed teens to participate in a series of activities centred on the issue of poverty.

The money collected for the event went towards funding food security projects run by World Vision in countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Mongolia and India. The event raised about $42,000.


Campers such as Wong Tun Hui, from Pei Hwa Secondary School, endured jibes from friends for "paying money to starve".

"That's what they say, but the money goes to charity and it's also a new experience for me," said the 15-year-old.

Others, including 15-year-old Joel Chin, were curious about how their counterparts in countries endure poverty. "My peers and I have been greatly blessed," said the student of Anglo-Chinese School (Barker Road).

"My allowance per week is about $50.

This experience of being placed in a situation where money could not help us out... the sense of hopelessness made real the experience of poverty for us," he said.

During the camp, students heard about the challenges of poverty from their peers from Cambodia and Mongolia. For them, getting food meant either trudging long distances from the village to town, or begging for scraps on the street.


When Ms Joanna Oey, 18, heard about the online poverty awareness campaign Live Below The Line, from a friend overseas, she felt the experience would enlighten her peers.

Inspired, the student from SJI International organised a similar event, also called Live Below The Line, during her school's Action For Poverty Week, getting 90 of her schoolmates to subsist on $2 (or US$1.50) a day for meals for five days.

The amount is the globally accepted figure used to define extreme poverty.

To survive on that amount, she and her peers had to shop for meals on a $10 grocery budget, which afforded them mostly staples such as bread and potatoes.

"All of us know how to be charitable but we don't know what it's like to be poor," she pointed out.

Their understanding of world food issues deepened during World At Lunch, another event held the same week, when about 170 students were randomly split into groups that were served typical meals of people residing in "first world" or "third world" countries.

Each student paid $4 each for a meal coupon. Those seated at "first world" tables, dined on sushi, veal sausage and mash, chicken burgers, fries and soft drink floats. The rest, a majority, were served "third world" meals of curry vegetables, bread scraps and plain rice.

The event's point? That the world's food supply, though ample for everyone, is unequally distributed between first and third world societies. That, together with other reasons such as low income and lack of employment opportunities, are why people in developing countries remain hungry.

SJI International student Rameez Ramsudeen, 17, felt the experience showed him and his peers "a little bit of what it is like" for the poor in developing countries.

For them, poverty is a vicious circle they are locked in because of the interconnected causes including overpopulation, lack of access to education and employment opportunities and unequal global distribution of resources.

Just donating money is not enough, pointed out student Ally Koh, who is also from SJI International. It does not stir empathy, provoke action or understanding of the cause, like a little personal sacrifice does.

"There's no point in donating money if you don't understand what you're donating for. Even if you read up, you won't feel the impact as when you're doing it," said the 17-year-old.

English teacher Martin Walsh, 49, who leads several of SJI International's service learning projects, including Action For Poverty Week, said: "The idea is that they raise money purposefully and not just get money out of their banks."

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