Child poverty charity Compassion UK divided opinion recently after announcing that the ‘Compassion Experience’ was coming to Birmingham.
Installed in a 70ft long mobile trailer, the interactive exhibit was designed to educate visitors on the poverty suffered by children in developing countries.
Using immersive audiovisual technology, it tells the true story of two children: Sameson, a boy from Ethiopia, and Shamim, a girl from Uganda.
But many were unhappy about the experience visiting Birmingham where nearly half of children live in poverty themselves.
"An immersive poverty experience is coming to #Birmingham this month allowing both adults and children to experience the sights, sounds and smells of a developing country."
"Family-friendly" simulated poverty safari on a bus by @compassionuk!?!
— Dr Stephen Pritchard (@etiennelefleur) April 22, 2019
Nicky Brennan, Labour councillor for Sparkhill, labelled the project a “poverty safari”.
Later, Brennan said the charity had “justifiably received backlash from ordinary Brummies who have called it out explaining that poverty is not for entertainment and stating that it doesn’t belong in Birmingham, where you could walk up many streets and witness poverty”.
She added: “Interactive poverty isn’t entertainment. This voyeurism shouldn’t make us feel good about ourselves.”
The Big Issue pays a visit
The public outcry was strong. So when the free exhibit arrived at Victoria Square this weekend, Big Issue vendor Andy King went to try it out for himself.
He was given headphones and a tablet device which explained parts of Shamim’s story.
King said: “At times because of the way the story went it did leave me quite emotional. She had a lot of sadness and difficulty in her life.
“Shamim got sent home from school because she couldn’t afford to pay her daily school fees. And she lost her hearing because her parents couldn’t afford the the medication she needed.
Not only is this disgusting, but it perpetuates so many of the crass missionary stereotypes of international #charities
— RitaChadha – Serious (@SeriousRita) April 22, 2019
“Details like those have really stuck with me. And I wouldn’t have learned them had I not visited.”
The 46-year-old vendor, who has been selling the Big Issue for five years, explained that he was already aware of poverty around the world because he has friends from around the world who moved to the UK and told him about difficulties they have faced.
But, despite its divisive nature, he thought the Compassion Experience was “definitely worthwhile”.
King explained: “It gave me an awareness of the charity and made me more aware of the work they actually do to help people.
“When it comes to the first step of just educating people, poverty in the UK doesn’t have to be in competition with poverty in other countries. It’s equally as important. We don’t need to compare the two because poverty can look different depending on where you go and it should all be prevented.”
There are currently around 1,450 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.
However King pointed out that his time at the exhibit drove home what he considers to be the biggest issue facing homeless people in the UK.
“A lot of what families like Shamim’s struggle with are things there is help for in the UK. For example, there is support for homeless people to get clean clothes and food.
“It reminded me that our biggest problem is a lack of housing. There just isn’t enough. Things won’t get better in this country until people have homes to go to.”
The Compassion Experience will visit Bradford May 7-9.