MPHS students experience poverty firsthand on Friday

By Gretchen Teske, Mt. Pleasant News


One by one, students push a plastic cup through a trough of rice, getting their only meal for the day. Some students sit on the floor with a plate of rice and beans, while others sit at tables eating lasagna, breadsticks and salads. On Friday, students experienced a poverty simulation designed to show them what meal time is like for the lower, middle and upper class families of the world.

One hundred thirty five students gathered in the Mt. Pleasant High School library on Friday, April 20, for an Oxfam hunger banquet. The students were split into three classes, lower, middle and upper, then given meals in accordance with the wealth of that class. The idea behind the banquet is to not just tell students about poverty, but show them what it looks like.

?No matter what class they get put into, there?s something to learn from every experience,? said junior Shaleen Thiengmany, who helped facilitate the event and attended the World Food Prize the previous year. ?Having that awareness is the beginning of any change we want in the community.?

Oxfam stands for Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, and works with charities to provide food for the hungry. Ken Brown, director of the Fellowship Cup, spoke to students about the importance and need for raising awareness about hunger. He explained that because there is no shelter in Henry County, the risk of people not eating a daily meal is higher. The Fellowship Cup serves around 150 houses a week, or about 1,500 a month.

He told the students that understanding poverty is the first step to finding a way to end it. ?We want to serve less, not more,? he explained. ?We want to make sure less people need our service.?

The simulation began with students being randomly split among the three classes. When it was time to eat, a trough of rice was brought out for the lower class. They were all given a plastic cup and told to fill it by scooping it out of the container. They were given no utensils, other food or places to sit to represent the level of poverty they were experiencing, which affects 71 percent of people.

Sophomore Lilly Pereira was placed in the lower class group and felt the simulation was an eye opening experience for her. ?I feel like it?s definitely a good look at what the world is and what we don?t know (about poverty),? she said.

Men were served first in the middle class group to represent the patriarchy among the 13 percent of the world who lives there. They were given paper plates, spoons, napkins, as much rice and beans as they wanted and chairs to sit on. Senior Taylor Murray was placed into this group and found the reality of the situation grounding. ?It kind of makes you realize how prevalent hunger is,? she said.

The upper class was treated to tables, chairs, utensils, napkins, lemonade, salad, breadsticks, lasagna and cake. The randomly chosen students represented the 16 percent of the world that live in the upper class. Sophomore Charles Green is from the Chicago area and says he has seen poverty firsthand before. ?I know what poverty looks like, but it makes you uncomfortable to see people just eating rice,? he said of his fellow students.

Librarian Becky Wright was glad to see the students interacting and experiencing what life is like for people of different backgrounds. ?Living in Mt. Pleasant, they need to appreciate what we have here, (because) they can?t take anything for granted,? she said. ?It?s just to show them it?s not always about fairness. It?s a real eye opener for some.?

Language arts teacher Jennifer Stater organized the event for the students after attending similar events at the World Food Prize in Des Moines. She wanted to bring the event to the school for years and through sponsors, gained the opportunity. She hopes the students take away a sense of understanding and realization by having been placed in the experience, even if for a day. ?They?re acting (out) experiences,? she said. ?It?s more impactful than someone just giving a speech.?