Training – Field Study: A Night in the Slums

Our May Field Study is currently being held on SIFAT’s campus May 12-25. Sarah Murphree, SIFAT co-founder Sarah Corson’s great-niece, is a participant this year. She will be blogging about her experience and giving readers a glimpse of what types of appropriate technologies and community development topics are being presented, as well as a look into who some of the participants are.  A 2012 graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Sarah recently directed and produced two short films, one taking first place in the 2013 Nashville Film Festival. She is currently working on her third film, a documentary about Camp Koinonia.


Tonight was a night I shall never forget. It was my first time to experience the slums at SIFAT. The Slum Experience is a program offered at SIFAT where high school students, adult leaders and college-aged staff experience life in the slums. During global training, we get a taste of this. Tonight was that night. Addison Shock, Learn & Serve director, divided us into families and led us down the wooded path to the slums where we would stay for three hours. We had no knowledge of where we were going or what to expect. This is how the majority of people enter the slums. People don’t choose to live here. Often times, they come across the slums in search of a place of safety. People never expect to stay here long, but with little knowledge of what else is out there and where to go, sometimes the slums seems like a diamond in the ruff.


SIFAT’s Urban Slum simulates what life may be like for an estimated one billion people in the world.

When we arrived at the slums, my first thoughts were far from a diamond in the ruff. This was more of a lifeless flower in a patch of wild grass. I have personally never been to the slums. I have only seen pictures online and through the movie Slumdog Millionaire. The pictures I have seen and this movie were very eye opening to a life unknown to me, but seeing an exact replica of where people live everyday was very powerful. As I entered the remote area, I was overcome with a sense of grief, sadness and pain.


We had to find a way to pay for food and shelter during the slum simulation. For about three hours, we lived as families in the slums.

The houses around us were patched together with pieces of tin, cardboard and rusty nails. A poor sewage system ran through the city, causing mushy mud to stick beneath our shoes. Piles of trash with dirty objects, broken toys and rusty kitchen utensils scattered the city. A handful of actors, dressed in disheveled clothes, played the roles of landlords, suspicious neighbors and cooks. The only food to eat was a pot of steamy rice and beans. The only way to eat was to pay for the food. The only way to get money was to work. Work was hard to find and difficult to maintain. People stole to get materials, lied to get necessities and paid for shelter on credit. It was a night of constant fear, anxiety and uncertainty, never knowing what would come next or when a riot, thief or landlord would turn on you. I felt helpless, lost and afraid. I felt this for three hours. Some people feel this for a lifetime.

While we only experienced these hardships for a few hours, many face these living conditions for a lifetime.


There are more than seven billion people in the world, and one billion of those people live in slums. This means one out of seven people reside in a slum. I encourage you to come to SIFAT and experience this one day. Don’t shelter yourself from the realities going on in our world. Expose and educate yourself. Choose to spread the word. If we don’t talk about these issues, people will never know about them. When we talk about them, solutions can be formed. When solutions are formed we have the power to change our world.

SIFAT staff and volunteers create a community living in the slums. They each have a specific role and backstory to make the experience as authentic as they can.