Despite severe weather warnings and heavy rain lashing down, 16 intrepid teenagers turned up to St Michael’s Church, Warfield, clutching a single plastic bag containing all they were allowed for the weekend – a toothbrush, toothpaste and clean underwear.
They were taking part in a weekend challenge dubbed Slum Survivor, aimed at giving them an insight into what life is like for millions of people across the world.
The young people were put into family groups and the building of the Slum began, with each family having six wooden pallets, plastic sheeting and some cardboard to build their home with.
Building had to be done quickly, as they had to take part in a two-mile walk before sunset, to collect water. The families also had to begin earning money so that they could buy food for their tea.
The families all had different stories to tell – one girl had to look after her three young sisters as their parents had died of Aids. Another was very poor as the father could not work due to an illness.
Another had to earn extra money as they wanted to send their children to school, and one very lucky family had their son sponsored by a Christian child sponsorship
organisation, so they could afford a little more food as they did not need to pay school fees.
As the weekend progressed, the slum dwellers continued to spend time walking miles for water, making crafts to sell to tourists and doing hard manual labour around the area.
All was done in the pouring rain with no shelter and only two very basic meals a day, comprising rice and lentils.
Each family had difficult decisions to make at various stages – do they spend their hard earned money on medicine for an ill child, or do they eat? Do they sell their water to another family and earn money to buy food – or do they go to bed hungry? Do they pay school fees to educate their children, or do they eat?
By Sunday morning, after a night of bailing out water from the slum, the young people were hungry, cold and exhausted.
The reality of life for 1 billion people who live in slums around the world had finally hit home.
As 15-year-old Nia said: “We have a nice warm bed to go home to, and a lovely supper. After all, this is just a weekend –
I can’t imagine how it must feel to live like
this for your whole life.”
Daisy, also 15, said: “We have food everywhere, water on tap, clean clothes, warm beds – and they just have enough to survive through each day.”
Jayne Lewis, who helped organised the weekend and is the Senior Youth Pastor for the Warfield Churches, said: “We were often reminded of Isaiah 58, especially verse 7: ‘share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them and do not hide from those who need your help.”