Friday, April 18, 2008

I'm wealthier than I thought

I teach teenagers. That in itself is probably fodder for dozens of blog entries but the teenagers aren't my focus tonight. I simply mentioned them because without that fact I wouldn't have the knowledge I have now.

We've been studying a unit on world poverty. We've spent 12 weeks looking at different countries and researching what makes a person poor and how poor 'poor' actually is. We've all learned a lot about the world we live in and what we can do as individuals to try to make it a better place.

Today my group of 14 year olds (and the rest of the 14 year olds in the school) participated in a 'hunger banquet'. It operated along similar lines as the 'Global Village' only with the focus on food. We were imagining if all the 14 year olds in our school were representative of the world, how much would they get to eat today. As the students walked into the room they were given a card. The card gave them an identity, a background and an income level.

The high income people sat at widely spaced tables covered in cloth tablecloths and bearing cutlery, wine glasses, vases of flowers, sweets and chocolate. These people ate chicken and vegetables, wine (softdrink for teenagers) and dessert and were served by others. The middle income group sat at crowded tables but had no cutlery. They had a bread based meal with little meat or vegetables and clean water. The lower income group sat on the floor and were given a small bowl of rice and dirty water (represented by sarsparilla cordial).

I expected all of this but it was really good to see the unequal distribution of plenty in such a visual way. What I didn't expect was to have it brought home so soundly the difference between perceptions. Where I live, I'm considered 'middle class'. Not poor, certainly, but not rich either. Not by any stretch of the imagination could I consider myself in the high income bracket in my country. Yet that is where I fit according to global definitions.

I knew that, logically. But today, with the visual stimulus of the activity we did with the students, it was really brought home to me just how lucky I am to be in the place I am and to have had the opportunities I have had in my life.

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