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Photos courtesy of Crossroads

A local charity inspires people to help those in need through a range of terrifying simulations

by Junjie Yao, Jennifer Hui, Amanda Kramer, Pooja Hattangdi, Liane Mah, Yolanda Lam, Michele Chu and Madeline Hanley of Hong Kong International School

A door slams open, shots are fired and men in masks order you to get down on the ground. You are a 16-year-old pregnant girl who escaped from your Afghanistan village only to be found by the terrorists you fled. You are a 10-year-old African boy who was abducted and forced to become a child soldier. Exposed to filth, blood and disease, you soon contract the deadly disease Aids.

This is normal life for millions of people, but fortunately in Hong Kong, these situations are more likely to be two of 30 simulations run by non-profit organisation Crossroads. Life X-perience director David Begbie says the aim of these simulations is to 'give people a chance to step into the shoes of those in need and, in so doing, motivate them to act.'

Begbie and his brother Josh attended Hong Kong International School in the 1990s. Their parents both helped charities by offering pro bono services: their father Malcolm, a chartered accountant, gave financial advice while their mother Sally, a public relations consultant, helped to spread the word about causes in need of public support.

Following a flood on the mainland in 1995, when the Begbies sent 19 boxes of clothes to help those in need, David and Josh were inspired to set up Crossroads, a charity which sends all sorts of supplies to wherever they are most needed.

To celebrate the charity's 10th anniversary, David Begbie decided to do something that showed 'the hearts behind what we do'. Crossroads invited Hong Kong CEOs and community leaders to spend 24 hours in a simulated situation, during which they had to create slums and experience dire poverty.

This was intended as a one-off, but the participants were so moved, they requested that the experience be repeated for their staff. The demand for these simulations rose, and soon teachers and students from international and local schools were taking part.

The students' reaction has been just as positive as the CEOs'. Nick Kramer, an HKIS student, says: 'Every day, people all over the world struggle to simply live ... Stepping into their shoes allowed me to appreciate my life so much more.'

The Begbies believe educating people in this way raises their global awareness, which will lead them to feel empathy for the less fortunate. With this empathy, they will be empowered to find the motivation to change the circumstances.

More than 30,000 people have taken part in a Life X-perience so far. Crossroads even took their activities to the World Economic Forum in January, where global leaders such as Sir Richard Branson took part.

The new long-term goal for Crossroads, David Begbie says, is to develop an entire experiential global village, 'allowing people to see the needs of the world... and understand how they can be a part of a solution'.

Crossroads believes by experiencing what millions suffer around the world, we can do more to help.