Singapore club offers controversial “poverty simulation” exercise

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Singapore Island Country Club
Golf course at the Singapore Island Country Club

Singapore, one of the richest countries in Asia and among the top ten most expensive places to live globally, offers one more pastime for “privileged individuals”: A so-called “poverty simulation exercise,” to be held in the posh Singapore Island Country Club on March 5 for a bargain of S$30 or a discounted fee of S$25.

To become member of this club, applicants need to shell out between S$30,000 and S$100,000 plus monthly subscription fees. The club boasts, among others, an 18-hole championship golf course, tennis court, swimming pool, driving ranges, gym, bowling alley, art and dance classes, a massage spa, gaming and gambling rooms, a movie theater, several bars and cafés and elegant restaurants with dress code.

The poverty exercise, called “Put Yourself In Their Shoes,”is part of the club’s 2016 “lifestyle calendar” which features other pastimes such as a clay mug design workshop, origami classes and a club dance night.

It is meant to be a role-playing workshop where participants try to manage “challenging scenarios” such as supporting a family and making ends meet on a meager income while dealing with health issues, and experience situations faced daily by the poor in feeding their children, being able to afford school fees, transport fares, food and child care, as well as thinking of day jobs to earn some money.

The programme is being conducted by the Methodist Welfare Services, a Christian group. Their spokesperson said that the programme “aims to stir compassion and nudge participants towards doing more for the community.”

The exercise. lasting one hour and split into 15-minute segments, each representing a “week” in the life of a poor person, will be based on “real-life family profiles” which aims at helping participants “to be aware of situations and the consequent hard decisions that people living in poverty have to face every day,” the spokesperson said.

Poverty Simulation Exercise
Click to enlarge

Unsurprisingly, the programme triggered a vivid discussion on social media. Positive reactions noted that such an exercise was in fact “a good way to get the better-off to form an emotional connection with the situations faced daily by the poor.”  Singapore member of parliament of the ruling People’s Action Party Tin Pei Ling even said she thinks it was a “fresh idea” to hold poverty simulations “to have a better and more rounded understanding of how being poor is like in Singapore.”

Comments also pointed out that such poverty simulation exercises are also being held in the US, particularly by Christian groups, for communities, schools and even for corporations. The programmes would provide an “emotional hook that moves people in a way that simple statistics and teaching can’t do,” the arguments went.

However, negative comments were plentiful. Some suggested it would be much better than spending S$30 “for the privilege of pretending to be poor” to donate the money to people who are actually in need for it. A poverty simulation was “very insulting,” “humiliating,” “distasteful” and “morally wrong,” many comments read.

Others said those who really want to understand the challenges of poor people should rather spend some time as volunteers in a poor neighbourhood or organise community services that are actually helpful for the needy. Others say it was “downright ridiculous” to attempt to experience “virtual-reality poverty” in the comfortable environment of a country club where a “short feeling of artificial sympathy” is followed by “another round of golf” and “some backslapping between the wealthy for having shown some empathy with the less fortunate.”

Other, more sarcastic comments suggested to rather offer a “rich simulation exercise” for the poor or simply create a zoo with underprivileged Singaporeans in it for the well-off to watch and study their daily activities.

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Golf course at the Singapore Island Country Club

Singapore, one of the richest countries in Asia and among the top ten most expensive places to live globally, offers one more pastime for “privileged individuals”: A so-called “poverty simulation exercise,” to be held in the posh Singapore Island Country Club on March 5 for a bargain of S$30 or a discounted fee of S$25.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Singapore Island Country Club
Golf course at the Singapore Island Country Club

Singapore, one of the richest countries in Asia and among the top ten most expensive places to live globally, offers one more pastime for “privileged individuals”: A so-called “poverty simulation exercise,” to be held in the posh Singapore Island Country Club on March 5 for a bargain of S$30 or a discounted fee of S$25.

To become member of this club, applicants need to shell out between S$30,000 and S$100,000 plus monthly subscription fees. The club boasts, among others, an 18-hole championship golf course, tennis court, swimming pool, driving ranges, gym, bowling alley, art and dance classes, a massage spa, gaming and gambling rooms, a movie theater, several bars and cafés and elegant restaurants with dress code.

The poverty exercise, called “Put Yourself In Their Shoes,”is part of the club’s 2016 “lifestyle calendar” which features other pastimes such as a clay mug design workshop, origami classes and a club dance night.

It is meant to be a role-playing workshop where participants try to manage “challenging scenarios” such as supporting a family and making ends meet on a meager income while dealing with health issues, and experience situations faced daily by the poor in feeding their children, being able to afford school fees, transport fares, food and child care, as well as thinking of day jobs to earn some money.

The programme is being conducted by the Methodist Welfare Services, a Christian group. Their spokesperson said that the programme “aims to stir compassion and nudge participants towards doing more for the community.”

The exercise. lasting one hour and split into 15-minute segments, each representing a “week” in the life of a poor person, will be based on “real-life family profiles” which aims at helping participants “to be aware of situations and the consequent hard decisions that people living in poverty have to face every day,” the spokesperson said.

Poverty Simulation Exercise
Click to enlarge

Unsurprisingly, the programme triggered a vivid discussion on social media. Positive reactions noted that such an exercise was in fact “a good way to get the better-off to form an emotional connection with the situations faced daily by the poor.”  Singapore member of parliament of the ruling People’s Action Party Tin Pei Ling even said she thinks it was a “fresh idea” to hold poverty simulations “to have a better and more rounded understanding of how being poor is like in Singapore.”

Comments also pointed out that such poverty simulation exercises are also being held in the US, particularly by Christian groups, for communities, schools and even for corporations. The programmes would provide an “emotional hook that moves people in a way that simple statistics and teaching can’t do,” the arguments went.

However, negative comments were plentiful. Some suggested it would be much better than spending S$30 “for the privilege of pretending to be poor” to donate the money to people who are actually in need for it. A poverty simulation was “very insulting,” “humiliating,” “distasteful” and “morally wrong,” many comments read.

Others said those who really want to understand the challenges of poor people should rather spend some time as volunteers in a poor neighbourhood or organise community services that are actually helpful for the needy. Others say it was “downright ridiculous” to attempt to experience “virtual-reality poverty” in the comfortable environment of a country club where a “short feeling of artificial sympathy” is followed by “another round of golf” and “some backslapping between the wealthy for having shown some empathy with the less fortunate.”

Other, more sarcastic comments suggested to rather offer a “rich simulation exercise” for the poor or simply create a zoo with underprivileged Singaporeans in it for the well-off to watch and study their daily activities.

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