The video footage of urban slums in developing countries — whether it’s in an infomercial or the television news — often is jarring. The men, women and children living there often struggle to find food, water and shelter.
UAB sophomore Amber Peek had seen those conditions first hand. Still, Peek admitted, she’d never been able to relate to the lifestyle in those areas.
|Students from the Global and Community Leadership Honors Program enter their living quarters in the global village at the Servants in Faith and Technology campus in Lineville.
That has changed.
Peek and 18 of her classmates in the Global and Community Leadership (GCL) Honors Program recently took an overnight trip to Servants in Faith and Technology (SIFAT) in Lineville, a Christian nonprofit organization that provides training for people who want to work with the poor in developing nations. The students were divided into families of six and had to negotiate their way through mock-up villages and urban slums set up by SIFAT — and experience the daily struggles to obtain basic necessities.
“It was a difficult experience and very humbling,” says Peek, a sophomore majoring in Spanish. “We had to do whatever we could in this slum modulation to find food, water and shelter. We had to beg for jobs, and things were very uncertain because we did not know whether we were going to get any of those things.
“I certainly have a better grasp of how hard life can be elsewhere and how fortunate we are to live in a country of opportunities,” she says.
A mentoring process
The students visited SIFAT as part of their Thinking Locally and Globally leadership class. The purpose of the GCL is to help students find their own personal passion in a global or community issue and discover ways to apply their own discipline to that topic. This exercise enables students to explore that.
“We want to mentor them through that process,” says Kristin Boggs, program manager for the GCL and teacher of the course. “We want to help them discover what they care about, how they want to be a leader on that topic and how they can use their knowledge and abilities to be a part of it.”
Education, poverty and health care are popular topics for the students. Some have a desire to help in these areas locally. Others are interested in these types of issues on an international level.
“By discussing these things and making them aware of what’s going in the world, they have an opportunity to really see what the problems are and try to uncover some potential solutions,” she says. “They also see the kind of advocacy needed to implement the solution that seems best.”
Complete desperation still exists
The students spent 24 hours at SIFAT, spending the night in the slums and negotiating with SIFAT employees who were playing the part of landlords, police officers and other powers of authority. The students were responsible for gathering their own food and preparing it using a sawdust cooker.
“Even knowing that it was just an exercise, you quickly realized that those infomercials on TV are real,” says Thomas McLemore, a junior majoring in political science.
“People do live in areas of the world like that. They struggle to find food, water and shelter and even with all of their efforts it’s still not enough,” he says. “I’ve worked with homeless relief and Habitat for Humanity, and I’m aware the poverty exists, but complete desperation still is shocking.”
Boggs says she scheduled the SIFAT trip because she wanted students to understand that finding solutions to these problems is not as easy as it sometimes seems.
“The perspective of us as an outsider wanting to help is good, but we need to be cognizant that the people who are experiencing these issues also have a lot of knowledge,” Boggs says.
“It’s important that we work with people and not come with our own ideas and assumptions and implement something without working with the community,” she says. “That perspective can be beneficial whether you’re doing something in downtown Birmingham, the Black Belt or rural Uganda, and it’s a core component of community-development work.”
Students say the overnight exercise at SIFAT only solidified their desire to do more to help the under-served.
One person can make a difference,” McLemore says. “Even if the initial impact is small, the effects of the efforts put forth from people with genuine passion for others will be widespread.”