“Cardboard Village”: A game of life in an Asian slum

 In Featured Stories, Serving Asia Magazine

By Sharon Liao

The Oxford Dictionary defines a slum as a squalid and overcrowded urban street or district inhabited by very poor people. In other words, people live in a dilapidated place which lacks ventilation, sanitation, and often has drinking water facilities in unhygienic conditions. Throwing myself into this reality, I found myself suddenly married to a school teacher and offering to remove people’s rotten teeth for a small fee when I participated in the OMF “Cardboard Village” slum simulation game. My ‘husband’ had his students attend only on the first day, then the children refused to come to school; instead of attending, they chose to work for money.  We started brainstorming strategies to encourage school attendance, without much success. But our situation mirrored the reality of many children in Asia’s slums. Too often, slum children have little to no education, as the families don’t see education as necessary; moreover, it’s difficult for them to grasp how education even impacts their life. If they do not have enough to eat or pay rent, why would learning letters and numbers seem significant? Surely it is better that kids are out there earning an income, begging or busking for change.

Our simulated classroom setup was, unsurprisingly, lacking in adequate facilities as there was no water and electricity available at the school. Our scenario had young kids attempting to study while drenched in sweat – a task that is difficult, if not impossible. I saw that the Cardboard Village Slum Simulation impacted everyone in different ways, and made them question their opportunities and motivation. Even though my experience of a slum situation was only 2 hours long, it made me wonder: what can government, family, church and school do to encourage slum children to have a proper education? My love of children meant that this question resonated with me, and I’m seeking God’s wisdom and guidance about the answer. I pray that everyone who participated in the game was equally challenged, and has been inspired to think about life for the millions of people in Asia’s slums.

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