When it was time for the Saugatuck Congregational Church Middle School Youth Group to settle down for the evening, no one had to tell them lights out. The sun had already set and the cooking fires were growing dim as they hunkered down into their grass, dirt or bunk beds.
Last Saturday, May 1, the 14 students were visiting Heifer International's learning center at Overlook Farm, in Rutland, Mass. The students learned about raising and caring for livestock and the living conditions in other nations. Overlook Farm contains a global village of replica dwellings from Peru, Poland, Ghana, Mexico and China.
Acting Director of Youth Ministries Georgette Huie said the students came away from the experience with a better understanding of how lucky they are and with more respect for other cultures. Huie has been a supporter of Heifer International for years and discovered the learning farm while doing research on Heifer's website. Heifer International is a nonprofit charity that teaches people in impoverished countries how to raise and care for livestock as a sustainable food supply. Heifer donates animals to families after they complete courses in animal husbandry and with the condition that the receiving family must donate one of their livestock's offspring to another family.
On Saturday night, the students were separated into two groups and sent to different themed dwellings. They soon learned that electricity is one of the commodities many Americans take for granted. They also discovered there would be no pizza or hamburgers at this sleepover. The students purchased food from a market set up by Heifer and cooked it themselves over a cooking fire. Madeline Gray, 12, cooked a barley soup and potatoes for her group that was stationed in the Poland-themed house. You always have to tend to the fire and always have to prepare your own meals, said Gray.
Gray said more people should take the time to experience how other cultures live. It was really kind of heartbreaking to see how some people live compared to how we do, said Gray.
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