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Last month, a group of state officers from the Arkansas Association of the National FFA Organization spent a weekend at the Heifer International Learning Center at Heifer Ranch and were generous to share their reflections with us. For your lunchtime reading this week, we'll pass them on to you. Read the other reflections in this series here. 

From Arkansas FFA State Secretary, Ethan Thomas

Imagine that every day you had to wake up to garbage knee deep in the streets and your water supply was so toxic that drinking it could kill you. Life in the Urban Slums is just that. On December 16 through the 18, I had the opportunity to experience what it’s like to live in the Urban Slums. Heifer International has a village in Perryville, Arkansas that is designed to look like various third world countries. They had houses and work that associated with each country. 

Our day started out with numerous team building exercises. We then progressed through a tour of all the different villages. We went to Guatemala, to the Urban Slums, to the Appalachian Mountain Range, down to Zambia and various others. As we made our way back to the beginning we were separated into our families by drawing a number. The number I drew was 17 and wouldn’t you know it whoever had picked the number 17 was one of three “mothers.” The water balloon, aka the “baby”, was wrapped in a cloth and cocooned to keep it safely strapped around us. Once we were divided into our families, 8 in the slums, 4 in Guatemala, and 6 in Zambia we had a crisis to solve. One of our family members had “dysentery” and would be bedridden throughout the whole experience unless we gave up all of our metal to sell for medicine. As a family we decided to sell our pots and pans and utensils to cure our family member. The other families had similar crises and chose to give up items so everyone would get the full experience.  Along with very little food each family was given some sort of resource, Guatemala had the water rights, Zambia had the firewood, and the Slums were tasked to cook breakfast for everyone in the morning. It was going to be a challenge since we had nothing to cook with.

We had only a few hours left of daylight and the slums had nothing to cook the cup and a half of rice we possessed. A diplomatic solution was in order: to see if everyone wanted to combine all the food together and make one big pot: the slum’s rice, the Zambian’s vegetables, and the Guatemalan’s eggs and flour to be cooked on their stove. At first everyone was on board, but 4 of the Zambian’s didn’t want to share their food and wanted no part of the diplomatic solution we proposed. We did manage to have an onion to go in our rice and had attempted to make dumplings with the flour. We had no silverware and some of us had to use cups to put our onion flavored rice in. That was a very unfulfilling supper, but that was all we had. After dinner we went back to the slums and made a small fire and just sat around and visited. I turned in quick; thinking I’d get more sleep while there was still a little bit of warmth from that day. The building the eight of us stayed in was about four feet high at the lowest part, 7-8 feet wide and about 15 feet long. The door didn’t shut and if it did there was a board missing. A good portion of the walls were chicken wire which let in a lot of cold air. Even with all its faults it was still the best structure in the village because it was wood floored instead of dirt. All we had to keep warm throughout the night was our sleeping bags. That night it got around 30 degrees. As night progressed my sleeping bag seemed less and less warm. My socks were a little damp from all the work during the day and it made my feet colder. That was a long night of short bursts of sleep. 

Morning came and we started with making breakfast. Getting a fire started proved to be a challenge because the feed sack that carried the wood and the wood were lightly damp from the frost. The item on the breakfast menu that morning was raisin oatmeal with a small amount of brown sugar divided amongst the 18 of us. That was my first time to eat oatmeal and would have to say that it was delicious. That small amount of oatmeal wasn’t quite near what I could have eaten but that was all we had between all of us. 

We all take for granted the little things like having clean water, a door for our privacy, and enough food so we aren’t hungry. The sad truth is over half the world goes without these things. I now see the truth in this statistic: if you have a bed to sleep in, a closet to keep your clothes in, a refrigerator to keep your food in, you are richer than 75% of the world’s population, just by having those things. The next time you think you have it bad, take a moment and think about those less fortunate, because they may be right in front of you, even a classmate.


Brooke Edwards

Brooke Edwards is from Little Rock, Arkansas, and started working at Heifer International in 2009 as a writer. She and her husband raise two daughters in a house way too small for their four pets. They spend a lot of time sweeping.