All I can say is that I have never been so proud of a group of young people!
From Friday afternoon until Monday morning 11 people spent a few days the way 1 billion spend a lifetime. They took part in an event called ‘Slum Survivor’. The Slum Dwellers, predominantly young people from the Outlet Youth and Children’s Clubs committed to build their own slum and live in it. They were allowed only to bring the clothes they were wearing and a sleeping bag and ate nothing but Rice and Dhal (a mixture of lentils and spices). During the weekend they took part in challenges which simulated things people in real slums would have to face. These included a water carrying challenge, making footballs out of scrap and also making toys and tools out of bits of rubbish, string and twigs, to sell to the people who came to visit the slum.
The group took on the challenge to identify with those who live in slums across the world and to raise money to help fund projects in these kinds of places through a charity called Soul Action. All the young people were sponsored by filling in conventional sponsorship forms and also by pointing people to their page on a fund raising website. The Slum Survivor initiative has been taken on by youth groups all over the UK but Outlet was the only group in Ireland to take part.
By around 3pm on Saturday we all began to get very lethargic and fed up. I’d predicted this might happened as sugar levels were low by that point. Up until then we had had no visitors to the slum but thankfully they all arrived one after the other late in the afternoon and into the night – we all forgot our hunger and weariness as the young people showed their guests where they were living and got them involved in some of the challenges. People were so moved by what the group was doing that by the end of the day, even though giving donations had not been mentioned, we had been given €80. This on top of what the young people have raised sponsorship for (I’ll let you know the total when we get it).
The young people took on the challenge with amazing determination and didn’t complain once about the conditions in which they spent the weekend. The nights were freezing (stupidly so for July) and pretty uncomfortable but not even the youngest slum dweller (8 years old) complained. We thought we’d sleep better the second night as we were tired and hungry but it was much colder than the first night and our aching bodies from the night before didn’t take kindly to sleeping on pallets for a second night. The state we were all in on Sunday morning is something I think we were all glad that nobody else will ever see – it’s a secret between the 11 of us! As we sat around drinking tea and not saying much at all, we were all thinking what we would feel like if we had to spend one more night there, let alone a lifetime.
I heard someone say recently that charity (giving money) is not enough. We need to start asking questions as to why 80% of the world’s resources are being used by only 20% of the world’s population. We need to be writing to politicians and companies that use the poor to make the goods that we wear…. It’s not just about charity, it’s about justice! There is only one thing that God was and is EVER interested in, and that’s people. The Bible itself is a love story to people. Are the 30,000 children who die every day from curable diseases less valuable than our own children? Are the ones that curl up in their slum buildings every night, less valuable than the ones who did it for a weekend and then went home to a big fry up?
In the youth and children’s groups this year, we’ve been talking a lot about being the difference. I think this weekend we finally realised that we, as individuals can change the world just by stepping out and standing with those who need the difference in their lives. Now we’ve started, I don’t think we can ever stop… at least I hope not.
A big thank you to all who took part and to all who have donated to Soul Action. Everyone felt the experience had changed them. We all went home on Sunday morning exhausted, smelly and hungry but with an amazing sense of achievement!