At the conclusion of our meeting, we headed over to the dining hall for a quick lunch, and this is where we met Fin; a very short, young lady in overalls, with the brightest smile and most contagious laugh. She was going to be our facilitator as we went through the Global Gateway program. We went to an isolated part of the ranch, and began our 24-hour simulation. In this area, there were 5 different “regions” of poverty. We began our introduction to the area in the Appalachian region, which consisted of a poorly-constructed wood house that lacked electricity and plumbing. Nearby, there was also a bus with broken windows, animal-infested, and a distinct odor; it was pretty clear that it had never been taken care of. We then made our way over to the refugee camp, which was essentially just a tent covered in wasps and other bugs. Next came the urban slums; a makeshift home without doors or insulation, patched with cardboard and scattered with dirty, wet mattresses. Across a narrow dirt road we found the Guatemalan home, which was sturdily made of concrete, but the structure was all there was to it; there was no furniture with the exception of a few mattresses and a couch, no water or electricity, and all cooking was done on an outdoor fire. Our last visit landed us at the Zambian huts, which were very simple clay huts with rickety tin roofs and a cloth door. At each of these places, we read a real story written by someone who had actually lived under those circumstances, and we discussed the daily struggles that occurred in those areas. With each stop, our hearts dropped more and more with the reality of it all.
It only got crazier from that point. Once we had visited the regions, we all sat down together and thought about our daily lives compared to the situations we had just seen. After some small discussion, the real simulation began! Fin separated us into groups of 3; Sean, Josh, and Annalee were to stay in Zambia, Mason, Courtney, and Brett stayed in Guatemala, and Mr. Martin, Mr. Hays, and I were to live in the lovely Appalachian bus. Fin then made this simulation a little more difficult- Josh, Courtney, and I all were “pregnant” (we carried water balloons a makeshift apron), Annalee was blind from malnourishment, and Mason had to live with a rod tied to his leg to signify a critical injury. Each group received a tub with various items; a pot, a small portion of food, and some eating utensils. Fin wished us the best of luck, and we were on our own from that point forward.
And I must mention that none of us had our phones, watches, or any connection to the outside world… So it began. We all made our ways to our respective homes to begin planning what to eat and how to sleep. We traded with other groups for food and other various items, and began cooking while we still had some sunlight. In my group, we were lucky enough to have a working stove in the dim and dirty Appalachian house. We cooked up a concoction of rice, a potato, an egg, and some onion- it wasn’t tasty, but it filled us up. Other groups weren’t so lucky and had to patiently cook over an open fire. Once we had finished cooking, we all came together and shared the rest of our food with each other and to see what each group had made. We spent the rest of our time prior to dusk playing card games and avoiding gigantic rats in my Appalachian home. The sky soon became pitch black, and the eery feeling of not knowing the time or what resided in woods of Arkansas crept upon us. It was not long before we made our ways to our homes.
Have you ever desired to sleep in a rotting bus? If you have had that crazy temptation, I advise you to change that dream fast. Mr. Martin and Mr. Hays made their sleeping arrangement on the floor and left the tiny seat to the “pregnant” lady. I huddled up in my single dirty blanket, underneath shattered windows and trying to block out the draft of odor and the constant fear of raccoons and rodents trying to join us for the night. It’s safe to say that I maybe slept for two hours, as I froze from the heavy dew that fell throughout the night and worried about my teammates that slept 300 yards away.
The sun finally rose and the nine of us came together for a small breakfast of oatmeal cooked over the fire, still freezing cold and all a little grumpy from our lack of sleep. Fin arrived an hour or two later (it could have only been thirty minutes but I wouldn’t know). We milked two goats, did some morning chores, and then came together to wrap up the simulation.
The entire experience of the Global Gateway program through Heifer International solidified my thoughts that it is all about perspective. We often look at the less fortunate and inwardly think, “Why don’t they just get a job? Why do they have a phone, but can’t afford to eat?” It has become our culture to hide poverty behind the latest technologies and the idea that a job would fix their problems, but have we ever thought about this- some people are at the lowest of all lows and they can’t even get to the baseline of a better life? That person may want a job, they may strive for a better lifestyle. They may interview for that job, but they don’t have the clean clothing or means of looking appropriate for the interview. When they fill out a resume, the second line below their name is address- it’s already going downhill due to the fact that these people most likely cannot claim an address. How can they be at their very best when they’re hungry, ill, and living in these circumstances?
“When I give you my hand, it’s not for a handout. It’s so you can take my hand and walk this journey together”. Every day, we go through our lives desensitized to everyone else around us. We don’t always think about what it might be like from their point of view. Maybe it would benefit us all if we stop and just take a moment to see it from their perspective, and take action.
2015-2016 State President