When was the last time you took a field trip that changed kids’ lives? Or at least changed their attitudes? Our weekend at Heifer Ranch’s Global Village was the most transformational trip I’ve taken in over twenty years of teaching. Because I believe so strongly in the mission of Heifer International, I am participating in the Teachers Pay Teachers Day of Giving on September 27 and will donate 100% of earnings in my store that day to Heifer. This is what they do and why I love it.
Our Field Trip to Heifer Ranch
Several years back, I took a group of middle school kids to Heifer Ranch for the first time. We all had so much fun and bonded in a way I’ve never seen happen with another class. I don’t want to give too much away because part of a field trip to the Global Village is the discovery experience. But I do want to share the gist of our adventure.
First, we toured the village, which is an arrangement of homes from different developing nations scattered around a small lake. Each site is isolated from the others, so as you follow a narrow path through bamboo or along a wooded ridge, you don’t know what might be around the bend. It might be a Thai bamboo house on stilts above a pen of chickens and ducks. Maybe it will be a yurt from Mongolia. It could even be a collection of tin lean-to sheds to represent the urban slums around the world.
What We Learned
The site that gave me pause was Appalachia. Yes, among the depictions of life in developing countries, we also saw a scenario of life in the US and it fit right in. No electricity, no running water. After our field trip we met with my principal, who grew up in Tennessee, to discuss what we learned and she confirmed that it was real. It’s easy to think of Africa or Central America, where several of my students have served on mission trips, as poverty-stricken. It is a lot more poignant to realize that some people in the US (and actually some in our own hometown) are living in the same conditions.
As part of the Global Village weekend field trip, students were sorted into “families” from the nations. Each family got an allotment of resources. Guatemala received firewood and tap water, Thailand got rice, etc. Students can choose to barter (or raid neighbors) to get what they need. I am proud of the solution my kids arrived at, although I will say they forgot to feed the “elder.” Yep. I sat by the fire and (following the chaperone guidelines of not giving any directions) didn’t share in their meager feast.
The next morning, everyone had chores to do: collecting eggs, milking goats, cleaning out the pit toilets. The rest of the day was filled with educational activities conducted by the staff and volunteers at the Heifer Ranch. We finished with a session at the ropes course and climbing wall before getting back on the bus home. I was worried that the hardships of the Global Village (it was cooooold!) might have been too much for my kids. But they reassured me it had been a valuable field trip. As one precious girl said, “It was hard, but it was good that it was hard. That makes us appreciate what we usually take for granted.” I really knew the trip was a resounding success when my former students all wanted to come back as chaperones for the next trip three years later.
It was hard, but it was good that it was hard. ~ Erin B.
What Heifer International Does
Besides the educational focus of the Heifer Ranch, the organization has a wider mission. Heifer International provides training and resources, especially livestock, to get communities started with sustainable agriculture. They begin with one family and the concept of “teach a man to fish.” They provide leadership training, as well, and a commitment to Pass On the Gift. A family that receives a gift of livestock not only becomes able to feed themselves, they donate the first female offspring of their animals to another family in their community. I am linking to the Heifer International website where you can explore so much more about their projects. Check out their page for schools where you can schedule a field trip for your class or sign up to Read to Feed.
Tips for Planning a Field Trip
If you want to try an overnight field trip to a Global Village, consider these tips from our team.
- Prepare your students. We participated in a Read to Feed fundraiser before our trip, so my kids knew what Heifer International was about. You can also watch a video or preview their website so that students understand the purpose of the trip.
- Pack carefully. You will be living outdoors for several days, so basically think of this as a backpacking camping trip. Everyone will carry their own luggage, including sleeping bags. Hair dryers and make-up are not worth it.
- Layers! We visited in May, when it’s usually 80 degrees in Louisiana. The night we slept in the Global Village, the thermometer said 40 degrees. We froze. On my next trip, I had a 30-degree cold-weather sleeping bag and a fleece liner. If you schedule your field trip during the school year, be prepared for warm days and cool (freezing) nights. They also schedule groups during the summer, so layers would still be important. As in, how many layers can you shed?
- Old-fashioned entertainment. Heifer Ranch policy forbids cell phones and other electronic devices in the Global Village. I took a couple decks of cards, which were in high demand.
- Find some hardy parent volunteers. Our student-chaperone ratio was 5:1, so recruiting parents was a must. I was so lucky to have moms and dads who wanted to spend the night sleeping on the ground and going without food (or coffee!) for a day and a half. Thank you, again, AIM parents!
TPT Day of Giving
Nearly 100 teacher-authors are participating in a Day of Giving on September 27, 2018. Each has chosen a charitable organization and will donate all earnings from sales in their TPT stores that day. See who else is participating and what organizations they are supporting here.