Learn & Serve: 48: A Slum Experience Recap

This January, we once again held an intense slum experience that lasted 48 hours. In this blog post, Learn & Serve Interim Director Becca Griffin shares not only about this event, but also some background and statistics about urban slums to help us better understand how about one billion people in the world live.

Ecuador : Understanding Our Place in the World on MLK Weekend 2015

SIFAT’s eighth annual 48: A Slum Experience was held on January 17-19, 2015. We attempted to befriend around one billion of our brothers and sisters around the world who live in urban slums today. We tried to walk in the shoes of people whose lives are worlds away from our own.

On Jan. 17-19, participants spent 48 hours in SIFAT’s urban slums to gain understanding in how approximately one billion people live their daily lives.

What is an urban slum? It is characterized by three things: overcrowding, improper housing and poor sanitation. These characteristics — when paired with challenges like dirty water, smoke inhalation, malnutrition from both hunger and hidden hunger, and a great swarm of violence for the vulnerable — create a web of perpetuated poverty. Slums are not specific to one part of the world, but for those living in the developing world, one in three will live in this context.

This year’s slum experience represented Quito, Ecuador. Each year, our staff members prepare to represent different demographics in urban slums through specific characters in the urban slum simulation. We took a trip in November to visit SIFAT Ecuador’s projects and learn about life in urban and rural areas of this country. Therefore, the characters represented during 48 were based on and named after people we met on that trip.

Staff members visited our international projects in Ecuador to gain insight into exactly how the people live, so that our portrayals would be realistic. Some of the names and characters used in this year’s 48 were based on the people with whom we serve in Ecuador and those who welcomed us into their homes and communities.

Before praying for our staff and participants at the start of this year’s48,SIFAT co-founder Sarah Corson asked if there would be any poor people at our funerals when we died. She said this to express the importance of understanding and having intimate friendships with those in poverty in any form. She told us that, in a way, we were making friends with those living in hard situations in urban slums around the world and that when we came to see them as our brothers and sisters, then we wouldn’t be helping as a handout, but rather, we would be providing for each other as equal citizens in the world. She insists that we must be more connected to each other.

The way of the world tends to set itself up in a pyramid with a few on top and the majority below. The story of our fathers and mothers in the Judeo-Christian faith is that, basically, God rescued His people (slaves in Egypt) from this way of the world and attempted to teach them a new way in the wilderness, where He provided for them (manna came out of nowhere and taught them that everything they had was provided by God). They gathered what they needed each day (there was enough for different-sized tribes for each day), and no one took more than was needed (manna rotted if they gathered too much), even leaving a little behind at harvest time for those who were experiencing poverty (Leviticus 19:9-10).

Today, in our context (those living in developed countries, specifically the USA), we live lives that are separated from the majority of the world, especially the half that might be considered “on the bottom” or in urban slums in the developing world. I do not know if I have talked to anyone in the past week who has gone without a meal, yet 50% of the world today will do that.

Here are some numbers to show how separated we are:

  • 15% of people have whatever they want to eat and more than enough food
  • 35% have a meal every day, but inadequate nutrition or hidden hunger and little access to medical care
  • 50% of the world goes without a meal on a normal basis.

Even with a growing population, there is enough food in the world for every person to have a 2,700 calorie per day diet—that’s more than enough! So why does 50% of the world go hungry on a normal basis? One third of the food produced this year will go to waste. While 40% of food waste in developing countries goes to waste at production level, 40% of food waste in developed countries happens at consumption level. One third of the grain produced in the world goes just to feed the livestock of that minority group. What does this say? The consumer in the developed country (like the US) can have a big impact. What do those numbers mean for us? That’s a different subject. The point is that we live differently and have access to different resources.


48: A Slum Experience welcomed 131 participants and 47 staff (most of whom were college aged volunteers) this year. Thank you to the individuals and youth groups, chaperones and staff! We hope to see you again next year!

Thank you to everyone who participated and staffed 48 this year. Taking time to understand the lives of others is a good practice. May Christ continue to shape all of us as we grow to understand, more and more, our place in the world today and what it means to share God’s love through service, education and personal involvement with a needy world. May our world, by the grace of God working in practical ways, look more and more like the one God taught our mothers and fathers in the wilderness, where everyone had enough, and less and less like the way of the world that we need rescue from again.

We had 131 total participants, individuals and youth groups from Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Our staff (47 total) consisted of current and former L&S staff; SIFAT training graduates from Honduras, India and the US; students from universities in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Florida; and other friends of SIFAT.