“Mountains Beyond Mountains”

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Worldview. Our worldview is the way we see the world based on our own circumstances and exposure to life.  It is like a puzzle — collective experiences of our gender, race, socioeconomic status, faith, cultural, childhood, school experience, health, talents, family — there are many pieces — placed to fit together to form an image and philosophy of how we view the world.

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Mountains beyond Mountains on almost every page illuminates how worldview impacts who & how people receive (and do not receive) healthcare across the globe.

Before I heard the word  ‘worldview’ the concept had been swirling inside my heart and brain.  Having children whom attended public school, participate in swimming at a private school and now homeschool, I have been intrigued at observing how different the children in each petri dish of education experience life.  In essence, how they begin the creation of their worldview – not good or bad – just as it is.

Children see the world (for now) based on their environment, families and peers…and, one can hope  as they grow into adults they  continue to push and expand their understanding of the world.

I remember one evening  waiting for my daughter to come out from swim practice at the private school they use — I noticed students coming out of a theatre type building – it appeared they were coming out of an orchestra concert —  girls in full length dresses, boys in shirt/bow tie.  I watched child after child get into nicer cars than mine and could not help but think how their set of circumstances…the random ‘luck’ they were born into put them in a place where this is ‘normal’ — conversely, you can drive about 10 miles South and there are schools where music is no longer even an elective in their school due to budget constraints.

These children already have such a different beginning -such different beginning worldviews – I find it fascinating.  Perhaps a key to creating a more compassionate and peaceful planet is by growing your own worldview to not judge or change others, but to understand and partner instead…

Friday evening I hosted my middle school daughter’s Boomerang Book Club.  The book we selected was “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder – there are two versions of the book available (student & adult).  While our family chose to read the adult version, most of the girls read the student version.  This is a book that does not leave you – it has left a lasting impression on us all.  The book focuses on telling the story of Doctor Paul Farmer, a Duke/Harvard trained physician, who has a calling to serve the poor of Haiti.  Paul Farmer views and understands the complex and cultural dynamics of integrating healthcare into their community with a lens not many can see through.  The author truly brings a voice and tangible understanding of starvation, poverty and the socioeconomic and political ingredients that contribute to the situation in Haiti (and other countries like Haiti).  For the critical care nurse in me, I loved the medical jargon and exploration of administering medicine in a way I have never personally experienced – through public health.

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For this book club we hosted a “Hunger Banquet” modified from material we found online.  This is an easy and powerful experience to recreate.   While the organization that created this experience is a faith-based group, for our club, we modified the material to create a secular event.  Our idea was to take the concept of poverty and have the girls have an experiential book club instead of just a discussion this time.  We were not sure how it would go, if the girls would ‘get it,’ but, oh my, it did not take long at all for them to embrace the experience and play out their roles.

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CONCEPT

The girls were divided and served dinner at three different tables based on distribution of wealth in the world – wealthy; middle class and the poor.

ARRIVAL

When the girls arrived (they had no idea what was going to happen) we had them wait outside and each ‘class’ was escorted to their ‘table.’  We sat the wealthy first, the middle class second and lastly, the poor. My husband dressed up in a shirt and tie and played the role of the ‘server’ for our meal.  This was an important element to the success of the experience.  He did an excellent job really making sure the rich felt cared for and the poor were virtually ignored and slighted.

The girls always eat dinner at book club, so they came hungry!

Mary (our book club organizer and blogs at notbefore7.com) and I divided the girls thoughtfully into 3 world classes (we had to explain and important to note that we asked them to forget their “American citizenship” for now, and view themselves as “world citizens”) – the wealthy; the middle class and poor.  We decided we wanted the teens in the book club to have the experience of the poor, and for that reason most were placed in that class.

This experience is designed for large groups –  the ‘world’ wealth is broken down to 10% wealthy; 20% middle class and 70% poor.  That is, for every 100 people that would attend this banquet 1 out of 1o would sit at the wealthy table; 2 out of 10 would sit at the middle class table and 7 out of ten would sit with the poor.

For our experience, we really wanted the teens to feel the slight of poverty and chose to have some of their younger sisters and mothers sit at the wealthy table; 2 sit at the middle class table and the rest on the floor.  Here are some of the pictures and observations made that evening…it was fascinating how quickly everyone fell into their roles and how the evening played out.

TABLES & FOOD

 

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The Wealthy Table. 10% of World Population.

 

The wealthy table was set with cloth napkins, china dishes, flowers, lemonade in fancy wine glasses, candles and enjoyed a 3 course meal.  They started off with a tossed green salad and were offered choices of dressings.  The server spoke loud enough for the middle and poor tables to overhear it all.  After taking our orders, he went back to the kitchen and served our salads….every time he served the wealthy, he made a point to walk through the poor and middle class so they could see what was being served as well.  Ouch.

At this point, the middle class and poor had been served nothing.

And, the poor was getting restless.  Immediately, they began throwing the trash from the floor around and at each other and being loud – really loud.

The middle class just sat at their table and waited quietly and observing the situation.  We observed the middle class stayed pretty neutral through the experience – pretty quiet.

 

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The Middle Class Table. 20% World Population.

 

The middle class table had chairs; plastic wear and clean water. Clean water for many is a lacking necessity.

 

 

 

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The Poor Table.  70%  World Population. They were given no utensils and we made something the packet called “Dirty Water” which was water tinted with tea and coffee with some pretzels thrown in the bottom to look like dirt/contaminate. (they drank it!)

 

The Poor “Table”.  We threw empty grocery bags, cans & paper on ground.  As girls were being seated, they immediately noticed & acknowledged the ‘unfairness’ to the seating – based on nothing/random…just like children born into different situations – no choice of their own.

 

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“Dirty Water”

 

 

After the wealthy finished their salads the main courses were delivered.

MAIN COURSE

The wealthy enjoyed a black bean burger with cheese melt of choice; rice; steamed vegetables, avocado slices & marinated kale – all organic. This was paired with a delicious bottle of pink lemonade.

 

 

The middle class were given rice and beans.

In our discussion later, we asked the middle class why they didn’t share their food with the poor  —  one of the girls shared that they saw the wealthy were giving them food so they let them — they had more and should…and she added, “mom, our food wasn’t even really good, but I was hungry.”

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The poor were served last and were given one English muffin to share.  They had no utensils and were left on their own to decide how to divide their meal.  One girl immediately grabbed it and was going to shove it in her mouth…but was encouraged by her friends to ‘share.’  They made a huge mess with their muffin.  They ate it quickly and truly left a mess of crumbs and even began licking them off the floor at one point.  They seemed restless and used their energy to be loud and messy – interesting…

 

DESSERT

To end the experience, the wealthy were served a bowl of ice cream for dessert.  The middle class and poor received no dessert.  This was a brutal blow to all.

We had printed up a poverty true/false quiz from the packet and during the meal each table worked together to answer the quiz.  We would use this quiz to guide our discussion later.

Mary & I knew we were going to offer the rest of them food after the experience (we had some pizza’s cooking in the oven during the experience) AND dessert, but they did not know it….when the wealthy finished their desert we kind of said, “Ok girls, lets get on the couch and talk about the experience.”  They were stunned.  “You mean, we really aren’t getting any food??  We aren’t getting dessert??”  It was awesome.  We felt we would keep this going as long as possible.

The discussion was great.  Thoughtful insights & observations were made. Here were a few…

Mary intentionally didn’t eat all of her meal and asked our server to give them the ‘leftovers’ on her plate.  When he did, they almost savagely started pickup up and eating her leftover food with their hands without a moment’s hesitation — we all agreed had we been sitting at the table together eating our meal they NEVER would have thought to eat with their hands and eat food someone else had already eaten!

 

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Using their hands to eat Mary’s leftovers.

 

One of the poor people was very quiet and tried to encourage the other two to be more quiet and united in their approach to getting food and was ignored.  The wealthy table recognized her ‘good behavior’ by ordering and paying for an ice cream to be sent outside for her.

The middle class really felt they did not have much, but more than the poor and felt they should not have had to share – they felt it was the wealthy table’s job.

Some at the wealthy table felt bad at their status and others did not.  One girl said, “if I didn’t know who the poor was, like if we had been at a restaurant or something, I would have shared.”

At one point, 2 of the poor became beggars and came over to our table (before being ushered out) and one of the girls offered them her avocado (because she doesn’t like avocado) and they grabbed it right off her plate and got it all over their hands and shoved it in their mouths.

After a debriefing of the experience we invited the girls into the kitchen to grab some pizza and we sat down to review the true/false poverty quiz &  tie our experience into the Mountain beyond Mountains book.  It provided an excellent framework for the book and overall, we felt, a meaningful experience they will not forget.

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7 thoughts on ““Mountains Beyond Mountains”

  1. What a fantastic way to help young people understand how fortunate they are and to have compassion for those less fortunate. I would think that these kids will always remember this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Amazing! Thank you so much for sharing this incredible experiential learning exercise. I wasn’t even there and it touched me just through you telling the story, Vickie. Kudos to you and Quinn and the rest of the gang at Enso Academy. Rock on! 🙂

    Like

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