CULTIVATING EMPATHY FOR THE PHYSICALLY AND ECONOMICALLY CHALLENGED

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CULTIVATING EMPATHY FOR THE PHYSICALLY AND ECONOMICALLY CHALLENGED

How does it feel to walk a mile in the shoes of someone living with socio-economic challenges? Can experiential learning experiences help to spur interest and empathy towards the marginalised amongst us?

On the 21st of August of 2021, 184 Secondary Girls had the chance to attend a virtual simulative experience coined E= MC2 (Empathy= Mercy, Compassion, Care). Birthed out of the success of its sister programme the Fast Food & Fuzz, it shares a focus on role-playing through the use of scenarios, dialogue and storytelling.

 

Our Girls chose between experiencing life as a visually impaired person or through the difficult choices faced by those stricken by poverty:

Virtual Blind simulation programme and Virtual Poverty simulation programme.

 

Vision is the most important sense in the human organ. We rely heavily on it for our day-to-day living. Without it, we would have difficulty functioning normally. Can we even begin to imagine what life is like without our sight?  

Go cook your beloved Kimchi stew with a blindfold on. The only help you have? A set of text instructions dictated by the robotic voice of your phone as you’re steeped in darkness with 5 unknown ingredients to complete the dish.

 

1) Cultivating Empathy for the Less Fortunate

In their attempt to role-play as low-income individuals, Girls were put into situations that would require them to make difficult choices based on the immediate need of their family members.

We live in a prosperous society with a track record of having a low poverty line. But are our perceptions of our nation really true? We might not hunger or thirst for our next meal, but that doesn’t mean that we are not suffering from poverty. Girls were introduced to the idea of relative poverty. According to Labour International Organisation, relative poverty describes circumstances in which people cannot afford actively to participate in society and benefit from the activities and experiences that most people take for granted.

A stable income gives us greater freedom to make decisions that would not compromise our daily needs. But for those living in relative poverty, sometimes compromises have to be made.

The dawn of the pandemic has ushered in an immediate need for access to digital resources. And with it, comes the need for costly video conferencing tools. While most of us would have the access to such technology easily, others who are less fortunate would have to forgo the opportunity of basic needs and education. Constrained by their financial circumstances, they tend to make difficult decisions that would otherwise be seen as second best.

One common takeaway that the Girls gleaned from the experience was the awareness that not every individual has the same opportunities and advantages to allow them to make the best decisions in life.

 

“People living in poverty don’t just have big challenges that they have to overcome, daily decisions are a struggle too. People living in poverty are also much more affected should they have chosen the wrong decision.”

– GB Girl

 

2) Cultivating Empathy through Simulated Experience

More than just a challenge, concrete experiences helps us internalise what we have learnt better. Girls who underwent these programmes showed greater awareness and empathy for persons living in poverty in a post-event survey. 90% of the respondents also felt that they could play a part in helping those living at the bottom rung of the economic ladder. 100% believed that the role-playing experience allowed them to be immersed in the concept of income inequality.

The capacity to see one another as equals regardless of their socio-economic background is critical in the process to develop empathy for others. While it is impossible to fully replicate the experience of those from marginalised backgrounds, simulative scenarios like these can instil interest especially when these experiences are unlike their own.

 

“I learnt that there are people who suffer from relative poverty and not just absolute poverty though they might not face as many difficulties as those who face absolute poverty, they still do go through a lot of problems and difficult decisions.”

– GB Girl