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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Learning to Care: A Night in the Global Village

In Perryville, Arkansas, Heifer International re-creates communities from developing countries so kids can experience firsthand how to survive in substandard living conditions. Read a related article.
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Learning to Care: A Night in the Global Village

Come and get a card, come and get a card.

Narrator: These students from the Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning in Denver are voluntarily trading their privileged status as Americans for a night to cast their lot with the less fortunate of the world.


I'm really excited.

What if you get in Thailand?

Narrator: Part National Geographic, part Survivor, this unique learning experience, the Global Gateway Program, plays out on the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas.

Holly: It's a program that is designed to help kids really walk in somebody else's shoes. Our program focuses on hunger and poverty mostly, a little bit on sustainable development.

Pretend that you're in charge and they'll follow suit, okay?

Narrator: Heifer International is best known as a nonprofit that promotes sustainable development by donating livestock to impoverished families around the world. It also raises awareness about hunger and poverty through educational programs like Global Gateway.

Woman: So once you guys have had a chance to look around, you guys can--

Narrator: Shortly after they arrive here, the students and teachers get a tour of what will be their home for the night.

Are those two the shacks?

They're not shacks, those are homes.

Narrator: Spread over five acres of the ranch, the global village features structures that represent living conditions in Guatemala.

Boy: This house has solar paneled lights on the ceiling.

Narrator: Thailand, and Zambia, as well as a generic urban [inaudible] Appalachia, and refugee camp.

Holly: Now if they get chosen to live in the refugee camp, not only can you not speak English or any other language to anybody else in the village, but you also don't have a place to have a fire.

Narrator: At each stop, students read a bit about the living conditions in the various countries.

Student: Wood, thatch and other materials which can be easily found in the forest.

Narrator: They also discuss issues like sanitation, poverty and hunger.

Holly: Give me a description of what you think a hungry person looks like.

Student: Probably really weak and probably can't do a lot of things.

Narrator: It's one thing to talk about hunger and poverty and quite another to live it. And just before sunset, the students brace for a night they will long remember.

Holly: 'Cause I'm gonna call some numbers, I need you to please come to the front of the room. Number twenty-nine.

Narrator: As their numbers are called, students and one adult chaperone are combined to form a family, and assigned sleeping quarters for the night.

Holly: Okay, you visit these folks tonight, if you want to make soup, because they have all the water rights. So say hello to Guatemala.

I love my life.

Narrator: While the lucky inhabitants of Guatemala will have all the water they need, they will have to bargain with their neighbors in the Appalachian village for the wood they'll need to make a fire.

Holly: Number eighty-two.

Narrator: Each family receives a bucket of resources which might include matches, flashlights, dishes or raw food, but no one will have everything they need for the night. And the refugees will have nothing.

Holly: Everybody else who's in there needs to feel really lucky, because this is going to be our refugee family tonight.

Narrator: To further complicate matters, one member of each family becomes instantly pregnant.

It's a water balloon?


Narrator: Another suddenly loses the use of one arm.

The last time I see my hand.

Narrator: As night falls, and the temperature plummets, the scramble for food and resources is on.

Hey, do you guys know how to build a fire?

Okay, you guys are-- if this is gonna work, we really need to cooperate.

Okay. How to make--

Be quiet, Jonah.

A cook fire, okay?


Claire: We had to cook our food, which was, I think, one of the big challenges for our group, because we in the beginning really didn't know how to communicate to each other. We had to stop arguing and we were like, we need to be able to fix this.

He wants-- what do you want?

Powdered milk and water.

Student: He wants-- no, that's a small carrot, by the way. Are you trading that to us?

He has nothing to trade, he's a refugee. He doesn't have anything.

What is he asking for?

We have powdered milk.

Powdered milk.

How do you know?

'Cause he's pregnant, and he's going "Ooh, ooh, ah, ah."

And he's a refugee, so he doesn't have--

Narrator: The adults in each family can decide whether they want to play the role of the elder, or as in this case, a two year old.

Oh, no, no, no, not there.

Holly: One of the things we talk about with the adults is, if they step back, the kids will step up. Another way of talking about that is failing forward. The things that we learn best as people are lesson that we've had to learn kind of the hard way.

Can't believe you just did that.

Do we have anything we can trade for more firewood?

Narrator: Throughout the evening, negotiations proceed.

Do you have any extra food, any kind?

No, we don't.

I don't think so.

She needs food.

Stop calling.

Narrator: Conflicts arise.


Hey, guys, we need--

Narrator: And alliances are formed.

They're gonna give us food if we cook for them, but whoever doesn't cook for them doesn't get food.

I have an idea.

Marlon: I ended up as a refugee. We didn't have any supplies like some other kids, so we had to go around begging without speaking, or without speaking the same language. What ended up happening is, the urban kids, they shared their food with us. That was really nice. It was funny, 'cause they didn't have any food at all, like barely any food to start out with, so.

Student: Hey, cooking people, tell me how you like this idea. We're gonna boil the--

Zak: It was really cool, just being to work together to get your food and make sure everybody gets fed. And I think the highlight of it was just being independent.

This is way better than what the other people have.

Zak: I know, this is ten times better than what people really have. They don't start out with rice.

Narrator: In the morning, as the class enjoys a meager meal, they begin to share their thoughts about the experience.

Marlon: I still knew in the back of my mind that I was gonna get food tomorrow, but I think if I really was poor, that I wouldn't know that and I think it would be a totally different experience.

Holly: I just heard kids last night going to bed, "This is really hard, but it's really good. This is really helping me think about things. This is making me think about people who are hungry or the different choices or where people sleep in the world."

Narrator: After breakfast, there are chores to tend to, like preparing wood for the next group of villagers and feeding some of the farm animals.

Open the door, we're coming through.

Narrator: During a structured time for reflection, students perform skits about some memorable moments of the experience, like when the Guatemalan villagers refused to give out water unless the others washed and cleaned for them.

We need water.


We need breakfast.

No, clean our dishes and our house and we'll give you water.

Well, we need-- we have to cook--

You shouldn't have forced us to make--

Well, you know what, we have an unlimited supply of water and you guys have nothing, so clean our house.


Holly: As a teacher, I'm often trying to pose big questions. How do we solve this problem? How do we grapple with this dilemma? And so it couldn't have been any better that Guatemala decided they weren't giving water out this morning. It truly allowed us to come to a place where we had to wrestle and grapple with some choice.

Aly: They ended up giving us water, but not very happily, so that was really hard, because I felt like they were being very selfish, 'cause they could, would make everyone else hungry and make everyone else upset and just so they didn't have to do their dishes.

No, but it tastes burned.


Aly: This experience really opened my eyes to like how people truly live out of the comfort zone, and this past twenty-four hours, I got to live like they lived and understand why I need to be taking action in my community and I hope everyone else took that away.

Narrator: Heifer has added three more facilities around the country where students can experience the Global Gateway program. There are also classroom initiatives like Read to Feed, a third through sixth grade reading program that highlights different cultures and animals around the world, and a standards based curriculum for grades six through eight. It shows how US consumer choices affect others. But for making a lasting impression, nothing beats living the lesson.

Wait, where's the firewood.

Give us a carrot.

Jonah, move. Where's the firewood?

Holly: It's not just, "Wow, we had a great experience and now we go home and turn on our lights and go about our daily business and not think about this again." It's meant to affect people to think, "Okay, what can I do? I have the power and the choice to make a new decision, because I have new knowledge, so what is that choice or decision going to be?"

Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to edutopia.org.

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producer:

  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Rob Weller
  • Jeff Woodward
  • Amy Erin Borovoy


  • Michael Pritchard

Original Music:

  • Ed Bogas

Additional Footage Courtesy of

  • Heifer International

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