The Compassion Experience

By Brent Owen

Living in today’s fast food version of America, complete with video game consoles, Netflix binge-sessions and mega grocery stores in every neighborhood, it’s easy to forget that more than 700 million people in developing countries live on less than two dollars a day and four hundred million of those are children.

“Raising children in our culture, it’s difficult to show our children how people in the world live,” said Steve Spriggs, innovations director and manager of youth outreach for The Compassion Experience. “Even the poorest people in the United States are wealthier than 98 percent of people on earth. If you read a statistic like that, it’s hard to convey what that really means, what that feels like.”

That is The Compassion Experience’s mission—to help Americans of all ages put in perspective what it truly means to live in abject poverty.

The Compassion Experience is a touring exhibit in association with Compassion International, a nonprofit organization that has matched sponsors with impoverished children of the third world, in over 26 countries for 60 years now. Currently they provide aid to 1.7 million children around the globe. The mission and the numbers sound good—heartwarming even; but, when we’re talking about 400 million children, it’s only a drop in the bucket.

The Compassion Experience brings the mission home with its traveling exhibits, which are free to the community, and hit different cities across the country with a mission to shed light and awareness on life in the third world. In Louisville, they will be at Oxmoor Mall August 25-28. In all, there will be over 1,700 square feet of exhibit space that instantly transports visitors across oceans and boarders and drops them into the lives of impoverished children.

These aren’t hypothetical children as one may assume. This is an interactive journey through the true stories of children who have actually suffered through these experiences and survived. The two stories featured in Louisville’s Experience will be Julian’s, a girl from Uganda and Ruben’s, a boy from Bolivia. Both are now grown and have managed to break the cycle of poverty.

Each of their stories is a room-to-room tour guided by headphones. In each room The Experience has constructed exact recreations of the homes, markets and classrooms the children describe from their lives.

“When we made the exhibits, we traveled to where these kids grew up,” Spriggs explained. “We brought back artifacts. Some of the things in there are items from the actual homes where they grew up. If we couldn’t get them, we recreated them.”

The mission is to create as authentic of an experience as possible that is appropriate for all ages. “Compassion works in some of the toughest places in the world. That makes it sometimes difficult to fully convey in depth what that means to a five or six-year-old child,” Spriggs said of some of the horrors these children have experienced throughout their lives. “Parents don’t always want kids that young to know what some of those words mean, either.” To circumvent such issues there is a ‘sanitized’ child’s track of each story available for younger children. The audio has been edited to skip some words, drama and vulnerable situations.

“It’s amazing what some of the kids in these countries have to go through simply to exist,” Spriggs said. “There’s a difference to be made out there, and these kids are worth making that difference.”VT

Oxmoor Center

7900 Shelbyville Road

August 25-28

11a.m.–6:40p.m.

Free, Register online at cts.compassion.com/events/905