A couple of weekends ago, an excited group of middle school children from Saugatuck Congregational Church took a field trip — literally.
They spent 2 nights at the Heifer International Learning Center in Rutland, Massachusetts. That’s a fancy name for a farm.
The kids held and bottle fed many baby lambs and, um, kids. Like most Fairfield County youngsters, they learned a lot about other farm animals.
But his was no pet-the-animals, feel-good-about-nature weekend.
Heifer offers sustainable solutions to issues of hunger and poverty. Yet solutions are meaningless without a visceral understanding of problems. So the youngsters were divided into 2 groups, and spent their time living as citizens of 2 “global villages.”
One was called “Kenya.” The other was “Guatemala.”
In the simulated villages, the youths experienced the struggles faced by billions every day. The Westporters had to barter for what little they could afford, with the money they were given.
Before they could eat their rice, vegetable and beans, they had to somehow build a fire to cook their meal.
They slept on concrete floors and wooden slats.
CJ Stephan expected “a farm type of place — living and working and ding routine farm chores.” He was surprised at the poverty — and the fact that roosters really do get up early.
Hannah Rose was in the Kenya house, which lacked heat and electricity. She was surprised to learn that it gets cold at night in Africa.
She was surprised too at “how long it took to cook the food” — at least an hour for each meal.
“We had to start our own fires before we could cook,” she says. “Before that we had to go to the ‘market’ with some ‘money.’ But we didn’t have enough, so we had to learn to barter and trade with other villages to get the supplies we needed.”
This was Kate Koster’s 2nd trip to Heifer. Last year, she expected the houses would only “represent” what poverty could be like. The reality was much starker.
“About 90% of the houses don’t have an obvious bed,” she reports. “In many, you had to sleep on the floor. There is no heat, and some are only tiny with 1 room.”
She admits, “We didn’t have to endure living in it like real people in those countries would have to.”
Kate learned that “we do not need everything we have.” She has a better sense of poverty — and realizes it exists in places she did not think of, like “Kentucky, Poland and Peru.” Now, she has “a different view on the world” — and how she can help.
CJ realizes that there is plenty of need around the globe — not just in the aftermath of natural disasters.
“There are many ways to help them too,” he says. “It may seem weird to donate an animal to help a village, but it really provides a lot of things that are useful to keep them going.”