Hearing of the online reality TV show where fashion bloggers are sent to work in Cambodian sweatshops, Qinnie Wang has a new policy proposal: A “Reality Check” for every teen.
I have a secret wish. I wish I was the Prime Minister so I could pass a policy that basically makes it compulsory for every teenager to travel to a developing country and to participate in a project that benefits the local community. I know it sounds a bit harsh, but the reality check will teach them an invaluable life lesson that will undoubtedly benefit them in ways that no school education can.
Take Anniken Jørgensen, one of three 17-year-old Norwegian fashion bloggers who were sent to Cambodian sweatshops last year to experience a Cambodian textile worker’s life for a month as part of a reality TV show. “I can’t take it any more,” she sobs in Norwegian. “What sort of life is this?”
Our kids are kind and generous, but they won’t really understand what extreme poverty means and how good their lives are until they experience poverty firsthand. I have no doubt that most will be shocked. I also have no doubt that most will develop compassion, which according to many studies, is the key to happiness. I believe that it will reduce mental illness, alcohol and drug problems, and make the world a more connected and kinder place.
I also have no doubt that upon return, they will look at fashion and consumption in general with fresh perspectives, and that they will care about how products are produced and demand big corporations to act ethically. If we want things to change, we need to stand up and say “no” to child labour and modern slavery. If we believe in social justice and human rights, we need to believe that every person can make a difference and that the power belongs to the people.
Such a trip changed my life forever, but I wish it happened in my teens rather than in my late 20s. I travelled to Southeast Asia in late 2012, and the poverties I witnessed inspired me to set up my not-for-profit fair trade business to make a difference to the lives of those I met and lives of those I’ll never meet in person. I am just an ordinary girl, and if I could be inspired by such a trip, so can many others.
So here’s my proposal, make it compulsory for every teenager to experience extreme poverty for a month. Then, maybe I will see a world free of sweatshops and child labour in my lifetime.