These past couple weeks have flown by in Dubuque, Iowa. I am becoming so weirdly attached to Iowa. It’s going to be hard to leave.
My position at Iowa Legal Aid’s Northeast Regional Office has proven to be quite the experience. A few days ago, my roommate and fellow intern Bethany and I drove to our Cedar Rapids office to participate as volunteers in a disaster poverty simulation. This simulation was probably one of the wildest things I have ever witnessed.
The simulation was massive. We created an entire miniature town. Each volunteer was given a role in the town, a character with a personality and a business. For example, I was the manager at Quik Cash. My roommate was a teacher. We had everything from grocery stores, churches, legal aid offices, DHS, to pawn shops and liquor stores. Everything you would see in a town was recreated in our simulation.
The participants were public service providers, local attorneys, and community figures. Each person would get a packet. The participants were randomly arranged into families with different circumstances, financially, physically, and emotionally. Their job was to survive. The families had members of all ages, from infants to the elderly. The families were given setbacks and situations to replicate the populations they serve.
The stress level was so high, people were dying and there were armed robberies. These generally pleasant attorneys and business professionals were becoming so frustrated with their situations, they were screaming at the pretend business owners and forced into committing crimes.
Around week 4 of the simulation, a hurricane hit our town. Prices and rates for everything quadrupled. I had death threats and had my store vandalized out of anger. People were looting stores and stealing things off of dead bodies. Intense would be an understatement.
The purpose of this simulation was to be able to better understand the frustrations that our clients are going through, and boy did it work. Often times when people get to us (a legal aid office), they are so used to being kicked around in the system that they don’t know when people are actually going to be able to help them. With how quickly people snapped in this simulation, we were able to have a snapshot of the difficulties facing each client. We were able to see just how frustrating daily setbacks can be. We saw how obstacles that seem small to us can be life altering for someone in these situations, like access to technology, child care, distance to healthy food choices.
This simulation incited complete chaos in less than 15 minutes. It drove people over the edge, there were a few tears and a lot of swearing. The participants walked in thinking that it was going to be a simple walk-through demonstration, but boy were they wrong. There were corrupt police officers, poisoned food, demolished homes, and starving children. In the instance, it showed how for some families, selling drugs on the side was the only option they had to survive. It gave the participants insight into why some people do what they do.
Overall, this was life-changing. Shout out to Iowa Legal Aid for hosting such a valuable workshop and for allowing me to be a part of it.