‘Poverty Trap’ delivers real-life lessons for boys 

Tonbridge’s first years took part in lessons with a difference as they learned about the effects of poverty across the world. 

After entering the ‘Poverty Trap’, a replica of a slum built inside the school’s sports hall by the charity Empathy Action, boys had a fully immersive experience of what daily life would be like there.

Crowded into a noisy, humid and chaotic space, they had to work in cramped, sweatshop conditions, pay rent to a merciless slumlord and live under threat of eviction. Drawing from real-life stories and testimonies, the slum gave those taking part an opportunity to experience, albeit symbolically, what it feels like to exist in extreme poverty. 

Boys were put to work making paper bags by hand, in order to earn a meagre living, and also experienced a simple lunch of sticky rice and vegetables, which they had to eat with their hands. The aim of the experience is to give participants a greater empathy for the billions of people worldwide who are trapped in the cycle of poverty. 

First years (known at Tonbridge as the ‘Novi’) also took part in a series of lessons, run by boys from the school’s Lower Sixth, in which they discovered more about the geography and economics of poverty. 

Tonbridge’s Lower Master, Josie Green, said the event followed on from the success of the Novi Sleepout, an annual event which sees boys ‘sleeping rough’ in the school Quad to raise money for the Porchlight charity, and awareness of the plight of the homeless.

“The Poverty Trap gives the boys a taste of the desperate struggle that many people in the world face in their day-to-day lives,” she said. “The experience also made boys think about solutions to poverty, and how everyone can play a part to help those less fortunate than themselves.”

Empathy Action works to combat poverty and injustice across the world and to raise awareness of global deprivation.