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Teens Get to Experience Third World Life

July 27, 2005

PERRYVILLE, Ark. (AP) _ Samantha Roll wiped her face with a white T-shirt drenched with sweat during a 95-degree day and stirred rice in a dented pot over an open fire. The cozy air-conditioned confines of her high school in Ohio seemed a world away.

``I don’t think I ever realized how much work goes into this,″ Roll, 16, said. ``Imagine having to do this every night.″

Roll didn’t have to go too far to get a taste of what it’s like to live in Third World conditions. She is among thousands of students who come to Arkansas each year to visit the Heifer Ranch, an anti-hunger camp run by an Arkansas-based charity.

At the village, students are forced to ration provisions, barter for essentials such as water and vegetables, and sleep in tiny African huts. Some of them get college credit for the experience.

``Here’s a bunch of affluent, Caucasian kids,″ says Heather McDuffee, who brought 16 teenagers from her church group in Boulder, Colo. ``They talk the talk, but I wanted to see if they could walk the walk.″

Heifer International started the Global Village in 1991 with a small house patterned after those typically found in Guatemala. Word of mouth drew visitors from across the nation and the village has grown to include urban slums made of cardboard and corrugated metal, a thatched-roof African hut and homes from Appalachia, Thailand and Tibet. All are built around a small pond, connected by trails.

``Did you see the sink on the outside?″ says Megan Powers, 15, from Boulder, as she walks through a barren Appalachian cabin with goats roaming outside.

Heifer works in 50 countries. One of its main goals is to provide animals ranging from snails and silkworms to elephants and water buffalo to needy families so they can support themselves. Recipients are required to give some of the animals’ offspring to neighbors to pass on the gift.

At the Arkansas camp, Powers and her group tour the village with their leader, then are divided based on population models. Certain participants are designated to be children, pregnant, disabled or elderly.

Each camp is given provisions for the night, but not everything they need. Some camps receive more than others, while a group of refugees receives nothing. The exercise creates a microcosm of the real world where they have to trade firewood, cornmeal, water or vegetables to survive, or depend on the kindness of strangers.

``It’s a game of trust,″ Heifer leader Anders Graunke of Bonn, Germany, tells the group. ``It’s not a ‘Survivor’ game. It’s not about competition. It’s for you to experience what it means to live like this. This might teach you a lot about yourself.″

And with that bit of advice, he is gone until dawn.

It is up to the teens to figure out how they’ll get through the night. The trading starts stingily with some hiding food, but by dusk they are going from camp-to-camp, sharing leftovers and singing John Denver songs by a fire.

The next morning, McDuffee sits with the other chaperones, discussing how the teens handled themselves. She is upset that some were greedy.

``That’s exactly how it is in real life,″ she says. ``There were a lot of real life lessons last night.″

Others came away with a sense of obligation after realizing how much they have compared to others in the world.

``American teenagers, we consume and consume and do not give back,″ says Rachel Malmborg, a 16-year-old high school junior. ``It is our responsibility to all the other countries.″

Heifer tries to instill that message at its other Global Villages _ the Ceres Center in Ceres, Calif., Overlook Farm in Rutland, Mass., and the Howell Nature Center in Howell, Mich. More than 4,700 combined go through the villages each year.

The overnight sessions have grown so popular that Heifer built a second Global Village for multi-night stays at the Arkansas ranch. The homes there represent the Mississippi Delta, Mongolia and Mozambique.

``Some kids get it more,″ says Heifer spokeswoman Michelle Izaguirre. ``You can see it in their eyes. You can hear it in their voice. They walk away with empathy as opposed to pity. It’s a mindset change.″

___

On the Net:

Heifer Ranch:

http://www.heifer.org/ranch

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