by Anjuli Watanabe

“First World Problems.”

This is a phrase I often hear cheekily thrown around when someone is upset because a favorite food is not available at their favorite restaurant or they can’t get their 4G to work in a certain area. It is meant to be a playful dig at the person who is complaining; to put them in check and bring them back into reality. The truth is, “first world” extends way beyond the seemingly over the top things we have. “First world” means we have access to health care, running water, housing, and food every day. 

I live in a mobile home, a double-wide in the middle of Orange County. Sometimes I am embarrassed to say so because of the stigma that surrounds these types of homes. Being in Orange County and surrounded by people in these large beautiful homes has weighed on me. My husband and I did not enter the market at the right time and if you know anything about the housing market in California you know the prices here are RIDICULOUS! 

We recently started looking to see if we could make it work so that we, too, could have a house. It would mean stretching our family to the max of our means. We have three kids. I want for them what I see their friends have. I was sad, why can’t we have what others have? It is easy to forget the things we have learned and know to be true. 

Enter Poverty Encounter.

This is not your ordinary field trip. It is a trip into the world that surrounds us, outside our country’s borders, the world that most of us will never get to witness. Our world, where 9.9% of the population lives in extreme poverty. This trip will change the way you see that world, but not in a condemning, soul-crushing way. It was a loving and gentle check on my wayward heart. 

When you enter the building, located in Sylmar, California, you are greeted by an airline attendant in an airport terminal. You can sit in the lobby to await your boarding time and watch a specialty news broadcast about the world around us or venture into the gift shop where they have some beautifully made fair-trade products for sale. My seven-year-old daughter commented that she felt like she was in a real airport!

They called our boarding time. The adventure was about to start. We proceeded forward and began to fill in the seats on….a plane! It was such a cool experience. My daughter sat in the window seat and stared wide-eyed as the world beneath her began to move and up, up, up we went. We received a briefing on the place we were landing. We watched the descent into our first country. Luckily, this flight was much shorter than the real thing! We exited the plane and were taken to our first experience. 

Piles of trash. That is what surrounded us. The only thing that would have made this more real would be the smell of trash, though I think that would have been overwhelming to the senses. I do not want to give away the wonder of experiencing it first hand, but I will say the presentation is done so well! 

You visit four countries in which you encounter a trash dump, the aftermath of a natural disaster, a brickyard, and sewers. Each time the exhibit had a way to interact and be in the moment to really see through the eyes of the children that live in these places. 

The only thing I can compare this to is when I was 18 and my family went to India. I have never cried so much in my life. I saw people, real people, living in conditions I had never imagined. To this day I still think every American child should experience a third world country. It was life-changing. The experience offered by Poverty Encounter is the next best thing. It is a safe way to allow our children to have this experience without the expense. It is a way for them to see that there are people around the world that need our help and prayers. 

What I loved most about the exhibit is that it did not leave me feeling hopeless or helpless. I did not feel condemned or disheartened. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I felt hopeful and empowered. 

At the end of the tour you get to help in a real tangible way by working in the food bank area, stuffing beans for families in these impoverished areas. Even my seven-year-old was able to help, which is wonderful because it can be very hard to find volunteer opportunities for young children. You leave with a sense that there is more that you can do and ideas of ways you can continue to help. 

The tour is two hours in total. My daughter did great, felt the impact, and loved it! I think this is a great exhibit for children of all ages. I am taking my teen boys and friends as soon as I can. It is a bit of a drive for us down in south county, but I guarantee, it is worth it!

I am once again content in my little mobile home. It is filled with love, and running water, electricity, and food! I am grateful to God for the gentle check. He has provided richly, and it is my pleasure to use that blessing for others. And if ever I start to hear that little grumbling voice inside, I will remember my trip to Poverty Encounter and be grateful.

This May, CHEA is partnering with Children’s Hunger Fund at the 37th Annual Homeschool Convention. We are inviting attendees to bring items to fill Food Pak boxes for families in need around the world. A list of needed items can be found here. You can bring one item on the list or enough to fill the entire box. It is up to you. Every bit helps. We will be stuffing boxes during the Convention. 

We also have Coin Pak boxes that can be filled by your kids prior to Convention. If you are interested in receiving one of these boxes, contact the CHEA office during our regular office hours (Monday – Thursday, 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.)  and we will let you know if you are in an area where they are available.

We have also created a field trip guide for you with questions to engage with your children before and after the experience at Poverty Encounter. We hope you will join us at the Anaheim Convention Center May 28-30, 2020 as we seek to be the hands and feet of Jesus by providing the most basic of needs for children and families across the globe.