Walking a While in Their Skin

A Mini-Immersion Exercise

Introduction

One billion impoverished people in the world live on less than $1 a day; nearly 3 billion live on less than $2 a day. They don’t have the healthy food, safe water, proper housing, or health care they need to survive and thrive. That is nearly half the world’s population!

At the same time, 10% of the world’s population controls 70% of the world’s resources, often using them in wasteful carelessness and with seemingly little thought about how their abundance might be shared with those who are suffering from intense need. Most of us here in the US are in that top 10%.

We’re going to do a couple of activities together today to help us get an idea of what it might feel like to be one of the poorest of the poor in this rich world.

Understanding Micro-Enterprise, Self-Help Groups and  Right Sharing of World Resources

Basics

Micro-enterprise programs are one effective way to fight world hunger and poverty. Small loans are made to impoverished people to help them start their own businesses. They belong to self-help groups that help manage the money and give training, encouragement and accountability as they start and operate their business. They receive training in business management, agriculture, cottage industries, or what ever is needed to help them succeed.

Quakers have been doing this work for over 40 years through Right Sharing of World Resources. Ten years ago small business loans were made through a Right Sharing grant to Gramiya, an NGO (non-governmental organization) in South India. Life has changed for the better in many ways not only for the loan recipients but also for the villages they live in. We are going to do an exercise now that will allow us to walk around awhile in the skins of the people of those villages in order to get a bit of a feel for what it would be like to be them.

There are two things you might need to understand as you do the exercise:

  1. The Apex Party is an organization that has one representative from every self-help group. They meet together regularly to learn from each other and to see how they can work together to help everyone to be successful.
  2. The exchange rate at the time this activity was created was 42 Indian rupees to $1 US.

Small group sharing

  • Break-out in groups of three and distribute one Gramiya profile to each person. Find these profiles on our website (Gramiya Personal Profiles).
  • Read your profile and step into that person’s skin (We can’t say shoes because they may have none.)
  • Take a few minutes to think to yourself what your life is like in this new skin.
  • Introduce yourself to the other members of your group and share what seems most important to you in this new skin. (Allow about 10 minutes for this sharing.)

Large group questions

Gather back in the large group and invite the group to remain In the other person’s skin during the following discussion:

  • What was your life like before you became involved with the self-help group?
  • What is it like now? Are you better off?
  • Whose life have you positively impacted?
  • What made the change possible?
  • Now, in your own skin, discuss the following questions:
  • What is one important difference between your life and that of the person in India ?
  • How are you using your life resources as wisely as these persons? How are you not?

A Vision for socio-economic justice

This vision has been suggested as a guideline for the world to work toward in helping to combat world hunger and poverty:

“Every person and family has equality of economic opportunity, at least to the point of having access to the resources necessary (e.g., land, money, education), so that by working responsibly they can earn a decent living and participate as dignified members of their community.” – (Ron Sider in Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger , page xiv)

That vision is very achievable. All it would take is a little sacrifice or belt-tightening on the part of those in the developed world in order that we might contribute some of our resources toward micro-enterprise programs in the developed world.

How Much is Needed to End Global Poverty

The World Bank estimates this is what it would cost to provide basic needs to the poorest of the poor in the world

Global Priorities $ U.S. Billions
Basic education for all 6
Water and sanitation for all 9
Reproductive health for all women 12
Basic health and nutrition for all 13

That sounds like a lot of money until you compare it with these figures. Look at what we Americans spend on common budget items every year—

How Much Americans Spend Each Year

Spending Priorities $ U.S. Billions
Christmas gifts 2.5
Going to the movies 4.9
Health foods and beverages 5.5
Bottled water 7.7
DVD rentals 12
Dietary supplements 17
Foreign Aid 20
Cosmetics 22
Food Stamps 24
Books 27
Weight loss products and services 33
Soda pop 54
Clothing 82
Consumer electronics. 100
Fast food 110
New and used cars 600
Defense, including ongoing wars 70
  • We wouldn’t have to stop spending money on all these things, but perhaps we could cut down on some and contribute the savings toward world poverty alleviation or perhaps we could “tax” ourselves each time we buy a luxury and put that money toward micro-enterprise development.
  • Facilitate dialogue that explores with participants their vision
  • What is one thing you, your family, your meeting, your work, or your school is already doing to help improve the lives of the poor of the world?
  • What is one thing you could do starting this next week to begin making a difference in the fight against world poverty? Pledge to join in right-sharing
  • Are you willing to help make that vision real? Action plan including personal commitments
  • Hand out two 3×5 cards and invite each person to write down the one thing they are willing to do in the coming three months to combat world poverty. Ask them to sign ithe cards and date them and add their e-mail address.
  • Ask them to share that plan with the entire group
  • Collect the duplicate cards from each and let them know that you would like to contact them in three months to hear their success stories and share them with the group so they can be inspired by how much can actually be done to help solve a big problem like world poverty by even a small group of caring people
  • Hand out RSWR brochures (Print-at-home or contact our office.)
Ten Chairs of Inequality(optional, depending on time available) 

This exercise can be downloaded.
Do the exercise with the group and then discuss how it felt to be one of the poor.

Closing Quote

Eliminating world poverty often seems such a huge task it is impossible.

A wise man once said this, however, hundreds of years ago about impossibility: “Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” (St. Francis of Assisi )

And another said this: “Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done.” Louis D. Brandeis

This is the generation that can do it, and the time is now!

Many thanks to designer of this exercise, Vivienne Hawkins of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.