What do a rooster crowing, bartering, gathering sticks, lack of sleep, a mouse, and joy in the midst of hardship have in common? All are part of the story of the Heifer Village experience. On March 30, sixth graders, faculty, and chaperones spent a night in an experiential learning setting designed to increase awareness of how hunger and poverty affect people. Heifer Village in Perryville, Arkansas reenacts the challenges of living in areas of the world where Heifer International sends aid.
Heifer International was established 70 years ago on the “teach a man to fish” philosophy that works to end world hunger and poverty by helping families achieve self-reliance. Through donations, the organization creates a sustainable source of income and nutrition by providing a family a cow, goat, chickens, or other animal.
Shortly after providing orientation, Heifer Village staff randomly assigned students and chaperones to a village in a poverty-stricken area of the world where they “lived” for nearly 24 hours. Some students were randomly assigned an “injury,” “blindness,” or “pregnancy” to illustrate how those things can affect daily life in a village. Each village was given limited supplies and instructions for setting up camp, building fires, and making a meal. Adults were assigned to be either “elderly” or a “two-year old” so that students could take the lead. One group of 14 was given a plastic tub filled with a pot, seven matches, a container of oil, and a paring knife. They then had to barter for wood to build a fire and acquire food by bartering, offering to work for food, or even stealing.
Faculty members said the lessons learned were by far worth any discomfort experienced. They witnessed examples of empathy, finding the good in any situation, and realizing that responsibility comes with having resources. Sixth grade teacher Debra Hastings said, “Watching the children deal with various problems was amazing. They discussed solutions until the group reached a consensus, divided duties, and went about their tasks. I saw them show compassion to others in greater need (for example, giving food to refugees). I listened as they discussed perceived injustices…”
Sixth grade teacher Shelle Pinkard found the experience gave rise to creative teamwork and collaboration, and a spirit of sharing, despite limited resources. “After many, many attempts to get a fire going to cook the potatoes and carrots, the Zambia family never succeeded. Upon hearing this, the Thailand family walked over to invite us to bring our food and share their fire. Wow! Their fire was awesome!” she said. “After enjoying warm potatoes, carrots, onions, and eggs, the two families worked together to clean all dirty items. There were no plates, so some of the students came up with the idea of cutting apart each of the egg cartons to serve as “makeshift” plates. Their creative juices were flowing!”
Even with its moments of conflict over resources, a rooster crowing, a hungry mouse, and lack of sleep, the trip was a great learning experience. “There is a unique experience that takes place student to student and student to teacher when you get outside of a classroom. It was a time of bonding and being equal because we were all experiencing something for the first time together. It has been the best experience I have ever had as a teacher,” said Lisa Lucas, sixth grade faculty. “My hope is this will be something that stays with them well beyond their sixth grade year and will inspire them to find ways to make a difference in the world. I challenged them to see they can do something, and it doesn’t have to be huge. Small things can have a big impact.”
In gathering feedback after the trip, faculty member Nic Henderson recalled a particular student’s response, who said: “I felt like I wanted to go and to tell the whole world to go because it was an experience that I will never forget, and it really impacted my life and made me want to help feed people that live like that every day.”
“There is a unique experience that takes place student to student and student to teacher when you get outside of a classroom.” Lisa Lucas
In a separate Heifer International project, the Lower School raised money to purchase animals to benefit families around the world. Students raised nearly $4,000 by doing chores for their family and friends, baking cookies to sell, and having lemonade stands. With these funds, the Lower School purchased four heifers, three water buffalo, two llamas, three goats, two trios of rabbits, two flocks of ducks, three gifts of honeybees, a sheep, a pig, a flock of chicks, and trees.
For more information about the Heifer International trip and the follow up classroom activities, look for a feature in the upcoming JA magazine that will be published in July.