Many adults and kids had similar expressions as they finished walking through the simulated slum in New Life Church auditorium Saturday.
Most were looking down with a forced smile or no grin at all. Some had moisture in their eyes. One or two even looked annoyed.
The virtual slum concept began last year as a “conversation starter” for families.
This year, as people walked along a wooden plank, several actors asked them for money. Women were slouched over, holding their babies in primitive shelters. Themes of prostitution even arose as a man made the suggestion to adults while pointing out what appeared to be a teenage girl with tattered clothing.
Nico Deschner, event coordinator of Global Children’s Villages said several participants felt devastated after walking through the simulation Saturday.
“Lots of them were coming out crying,” said Deschner.
The event coordinator admitted the actors were trying to have that effect on people; however, he said that’s not solely what Global Children’s Villages is about.
After walking through the slum area, families had a chance to visit other ethnic villages and collect gold coins, which could eventually be put toward making the living situation better in the slum.
After last year’s event, Deschner said he received a lot of positive feedback, but a few people felt it was “too intense.”
Another complaint he received was that the depressed and angry attitudes of the actors didn’t necessarily reflect the way people are in other parts of the developing world.
“One (response) was it’s not always that bad. I understand that, but we only have so much time and so much space.
“We (focus on) portraying the hopelessness.”
Many of the actors, who are church members and community volunteers, have witnessed poor living conditions throughout the world. The younger actors who haven’t travelled were given suggestions and then rehearsed their roles.
Deschner explained the slum doesn’t represent a specific country; rather, a mixture of living situations one may find in third-world countries.
William Wipf, one of the slum actors, offered to wash people’s shoes Saturday. He said his character was just trying to get some food because he hadn’t eaten in days.
“It’s surreal. I think the people are seeing what’s really out there. I found a lot of people (were) in complete shock; they just couldn’t speak,” said Wipf.
Several people exiting the slum Saturday opted not to be interviewed. Some said it was different than what they’ve experienced in other countries. But the vast majority agreed the simulation is positive for the community.
“It’s uncomfortable,” said Corina.
“I’ve been to Ethiopia, parts of Kenya, Thailand and Malaysia. Other than the lack of sewer smells, it’s very similar.”
Aaron David, another observer, agreed.
“You need to get the message across…it’s a necessary shock,” he said.