SPRING HILL — That children live in poverty in developing, Third World nations is a fact, but only those who have seen it firsthand truly can appreciate their plight.
You can talk about it; you can look at pictures or watch a video, but there’s nothing like walking a mile in the shoes of a child struggling each day with the hardships they endure each day of their lives. Bringing that experience to the U.S. is the mission of the Compassion Experience, a touring, interactive and immersive display project of Compassion International, which has been helping impoverished children around the world for 60 years. The tour made a stop at the Northcliffe Baptist Church in Spring Hill between Nov. 30 and Dec. 3, where local families were able to step through the door of a large cargo trailer and into another world.
The Compassion Experience exhibit replicates the home, classrooms and workplaces of actual children. Through audio played on head phones each person on the tour wears, visitors move from room to room, the first-person audio describing everyday life in the child’s world. One of the scripted experiences is that of Carlos, a child from Guatemala who began working when he was 5. He has no father and his mother struggles every day so the family can endure. One room in the exhibit is the small, shabby kitchen. On the table are some new socks with a bow on them, a Christmas present for Carlos. They are the best thing he owns, and he is hesitant to wear them because they might get dirty.
Carlos’ story is real, and sad, but in the end, the now-grown recipient of help through Compassion International, has a good job in his home country. The message is clear: with help from those who sponsor one of the 2 million children the organization helps around the world, lives can change for the better.
“It was great,” said Katelyn Ford of New Port Richey, who brought her young children to the tour stop. “It’s good for them (her kids) to get to experience Third World countries and how the poor children struggle.”
Paul Bacus, a young father from Spring Hill, came with his wife and their young children.
“It was really good,” he said of the journey through Carlos’ world. “It’s definitely a way to see the need of children living in poverty.”
The Compassion Experience traveling exhibit started in 2012, said Tim Glenn, communications principal with Compassion International, a Christian organization in Colorado Springs. The free exhibit has gone a long way to help children in need and educate the public about poverty around the world.
“It’s incredibly effective,” Glenn said, as those touring the exhibit can walk into a replica of a classroom, living room or kitchen that “connects them to a child” in a way not otherwise possible.
“Not everyone can visit the developing world to see this kind of poverty firsthand,” Glenn said. “We have poverty in the U.S., but we have shelters, soup kitchens; a lot of the developing world doesn’t have that.”
The next tour stops nearest to the Nature Coast at Windermere, Feb. 1-4; and Longwood, Feb. 8-11. Both are near Orlando. More information is at www.cts.compassion.com.