Do simulations actually make a difference?
A question that we are frequently asked. The reality is there is no uniform response to each event. The feelings people who take part feel are unique. So to is their response.
Some leave with a deep sense of gratitude for what they have and a renewed appreciation of others living in desperation. Others, a sense that they have taken part in another useful activity. Others still pledge to do more. A few, however, actually go on to be inspired to do more.
We asked Kat Vrolijk to describe her journey ‘from simulation’ to ‘beyond simulation’. The following is what she shared:
In June 2014, when I took part in my first “Poverty Trap” simulation, little did I know what that first experience would spur me on to do. Although it took me some time to reflect on what had happened during the simulation and develop my current viewpoint, I remember that at the time I was deeply struck by the guest speaker that day: Kim Polman. Three years on, I can still remember how she inspired me and reminded me a lot of my mother. That experience was in a way the key which helped me understand why my mother founded her company and strives to make the gold mining sector more ethical and sustainable. For years she had been teaching me about compassion and kindness, and how I should do my best to help those that have not had the same opportunities as me, yet I never really understood it; the reality that only 36% of girls in rural Morocco go to school, or of the tens of thousands of children who work in mines around the world seemed so distant. Empathy Action’s simulation changed all of that for me: feeling, even if only through a simulation, eclipses all the telling in the world.
This experience is a form of visceral learning, where you are, for a brief moment, placed in the shoes of someone who has had a very different life. Although I had theoretically been learning about the underprivileged parts of the earth’s population for many years in Geography lessons and thanks to my mother’s advice, it was the emotional connection formed through the simulation which turned my theoretical knowledge of these issues into real understanding, and eventually empathy. It is interesting for me to reflect on how that simulation changed me, now that I am at university, learning about the emotional disconnect that many of us have with issues around the world which do not affect us directly. After the initial simulation, I discussed the experience with my mother, with whom I decided to bring the experience to my old school in Switzerland. This was the first time, of many, in which I played a cast role in the simulation, giving me a new glimpse into the dynamic and effects of the “Poverty Trap”. Empathising with these issues is one thing, but the experience also pushed me to get very involved in many fundraising activities, for both local and international causes. In July 2016, I was a part of a team of ten students and two teachers who travelled to Mumbai in India, and this experience too influenced me in ways I did not originally expect. Amongst other things, visiting the slum of Dharavi, showed me how much hope and joy there is in places that as privileged westerners we may look down upon, but also that there is so much left to be done in terms of infrastructure, sanitation and access to education. It also strengthened my desire to study architecture, in order to someday hopefully contributing to ethical and sustainable solutions to urban design problems.
Earlier this summer, I spent two weeks volunteering for Empathy Action, and experienced (in a small amount of time), a few of the ups and downs that small independent charities face: a strong sense of community, wondering how to measure impact, eyes shining with a common goal, the anger and sadness evoked from injustices… I was also delighted to have lunch with Kim Polman, three years later, to tell her how she had contributed to my complete worldview change, and to also learn about her new movement: “Reboot the Future” which seeks to “encourage everyone to live the golden rule everyday”.
Since initially “having my eyes opened”, my world has kept on expanding further and further, as I have grown more and more aware of all the things which need changing around the world. Empathy Action helped me look beyond my bubble, and grasp as many opportunities as I could get my hand on. Indeed, although I would not even have dared dream of this a year ago, I am now on a full scholarship studying Architecture, and hoping to minor in Environmental Studies, at the University of Toronto in Canada.
I can whole-heartedly recommend Empathy Action’s simulations to any and all – but be prepared for your world to change!
Thanks Kat! We’re grateful for all who take part in the simulations and realise that each person will respond uniquely to empathising with others living in desperation.
If you would like to find out more about the simulations programme or volunteering, interning opportunities please get in touch.