Singapore country club mocked for 'poverty simulation'

Screencap of the Singapore Island Country Club website on 5 February 2016 Image copyright SICC
Image caption The Singapore Island Country Club features golf courses and calls itself "the oldest and grandest" club in the city

A Singaporean country club is being widely mocked online for its plans to hold a "poverty simulation" exercise next month for its members.

Participants will role-play as poor families at the workshop at the elite Singapore Island Country Club.

News of the exercise sparked incredulity online, where many have deemed it condescending.

Membership of the club costs between $30,000 Singaporean dollars ($21,000: £15,000) and $100,000 a year.

Tiny but affluent Singapore has seen growing income inequality, prompting worries about social cohesion.

'Good to experience' poverty

The club told the BBC it was "heartened by the keen interest shown [in] the workshops and activities at the club".

It said the event was one of many charity events and that it would be organising more activities to "inspire others to step up and give".

The workshop will be run next month by the Christian charity Methodist Welfare Services (MWS). It already runs the programme in schools and said it encourages understanding of the needs of the poor.

Participants would be divided into "families" and for two hours role-play different scenarios, including coping as a single parent, struggling with debt or taking care of a terminally ill family member.

MWS executive director Jenny Bong said participants were "generally positive about their experience and are able to draw learning points from it".

But many online have deemed the event offensive.

A post on local newspaper Today's Facebook page by user Adolf Ryu Oh asked: "Are you trying to humiliate the poor?"

Another, Kok Chwee Sim, called it "an exercise in futility".

"Sounds like a good reason for them to pat themselves on the back and walk away saying we've done something for the poor."

But others said the exercise could have its uses and encourage greater empathy among the rich.

"I know it sounds horrid," said Leticia Jordan Chua. "But to be fair, World Vision organises a similar programme called the 40 hour famine which I did in secondary school. And it's left a mark on me and my peers. So don't knock it."

One country club member, Frankie Lim, was quoted in Today as saying: "For me, I grew up in poverty. We had to give up our bus fares and walk to school just to buy simple luxuries, so I think it will be good to experience what it's like to be poor now."

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