A Lesson in How the World Lives

Tens of thousands of schoolchildren in Denver toured a life-size exhibit of dwellings from around the globe

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

THIS week's lesson for more than 20,000 Denver-area schoolchildren is international economics.

Two hangars at the defunct Stapleton International Airport, which closed in May when Denver International Airport opened, have been converted into a Global Village, an educational exhibit that began Oct. 12 and runs through Friday.

Hollywood set designer Wayne Beswick reconstructed 10 life-size habitats where families live and sleep on four continents. Among them is a totora-reed house like those on the floating islands of Lake Titicaca in Peru; a kraal (a one-room, round hut surrounded by a fence to keep out wild animals in Africa); and a favela, or shack, from Brazil made of broken furniture and abandoned metal and trash. North America was represented by a tenement and a station wagon, where a homeless family sleeps.

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''We want to help children better understand the world they don't have contact with,'' says Casey Bahr, director of development education for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), creators of the exhibit. He noted that a small number of the Denver children touring the Global Village had been homeless and lived in cars. ''Although most of the kids have a lot, Americans don't have it all, and we want them to see the value of other cultures.''

Each continent, except North America, had dwellings considered favorable and those that were hardships. In Southeast Asia, children toured a stilt house built of bamboo poles over water where multiple families live and sleep in relative comfort. But they also toured a refugee boat and camp like those in Vietnam or Cambodia.

The exhibit helped children understand the disparity of living conditions around the world.

Nine-year-old Emily Murphy, a fifth-grader at Highline Community School in Aurora, Colo., says she felt guilty after learning about the refugee camps. ''It makes me feel like I take advantage too much of what I have because they have too little,'' she says.

While walking through the replicated inner-city tenement, her classmate Raleigh Cary surmised that poverty equals loss of control. ''The places with more money have more power, and if people don't have control it destroys their lives,'' Cary says. ''I don't really think that these houses should be taken down because someone wants to build a better house.'' He also suggested the refugee camps become independent by growing and harvesting their own crops.

Young Cary's idea was just the kind of development enthusiasm ADRA wanted Global Village to spark, Bahr says. ''When these kids watch the news, America often just looks like a big relief organization to the rest of the world,'' he says. ''We want to help the people in these countries rebuild their lives, be self-sustaining, and feed their families.''

High school students fulfilling community service credits serve as tour guides at each of the habitats. After the 3-1/2-hour walk through the exhibit, children perform relief work by packing boxes with clothes, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other essentials to go to countries in immediate need, such as Haiti.

At the end of the day, visitors are encouraged to share their feelings about what they experience. ''Learning about children their age living under these conditions can be overwhelming,'' says Jeannie Gardner, education coordinator for Global Village. ''We don't want them feeling depressed or morbid. This is supposed to be an informational tool to empower them to make the world a better place.''

Jamar Childress, age 9, says he just wanted the children in these countries to have what he has: ''I don't think it's fair because they don't get TV or food like we do, like hamburgers.''

A school curriculum, supported by a $150,000 grant from United States Agency for International Development (USAID), was developed for teachers to go over before and after their classes visited Global Village.

''This is a marvelous idea,'' says Danna Webster, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Highline. ''It's like flying to Hawaii and seeing a Polynesian village, only it came here to us.''

Elise Storck, acting chief of development education for USAID, says US funds were allotted for international development education in the early 1980s by the Biden-Pell amendment, which came out of the Carter Commission on Hunger. ''There was a sense in the United States that people didn't understand the causes of hunger and poverty worldwide,'' Ms. Storck says. ''This kind of exhibit helps children be mindful of the connections they have with children throughout the world. They hear about a ... famine or flooding and think, 'Why can't these people get their act together?' Now they understand more about the root causes of development problems in these countries.''

Storck also notes that besides humanitarian relief, children need to learn that development is an economic issue for the US as well. ''Developing countries are the fastest-growing markets for US goods and services,'' she says.

In addition to the USAID grant, some $350,000 in local corporate sponsorship was donated to Denver's Global Village.

Denver is Global Village's largest presentation. The exhibits were displayed in Rome and Holland this summer. The next US stop is expected to be Dayton, Ohio, Mr. Bahr says. Adventist organizations in Miami, Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C., also are considering sponsoring the show, says Tamara Pleitez, ADRA spokeswoman.

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