Slumming it

In the past year, Feed the Children has changed both its focus and its leadership. Now it hopes to educate people about its mission by recreating the atmosphere of an African slum inside an Oklahoma City warehouse.

After walking through a hallway lined with pictures of kids in Feed the Children programs, visitors see a panorama of Kibera, Africa’s largest urban slum. It acts as an introduction to the Story of Hope exhibit.

“We know that people don’t always have the opportunity to travel internationally and to see the broader world, so we wanted to bring the world to Oklahoma,” spokeswoman Erin Engelke said.

The exhibit is free, but reservations are required.

The panorama gives way to dimly lighted, enclosed hallways lined with sheet metal and grubby fabric. Dirt and litter line the path past a marketplace and into a courtyard where heat lamps shower infrared waves onto visitors.

An aerosol mister wafts the smell of garbage into the room as a disembodied voice instructs visitors to “smell the obscene odors.” Engelke said they partnered with a chemist to recreate the smell of a slum.

Inside one home, chairs are pushed against the walls for the
10 people who live there. Engelke said the chairs were taken from an
actual Kiberan shack after Feed the Children gave the owners new
furniture, but due to fire code restrictions, the reproduced space is
actually larger than the real residence.

Throughout Story of Hope, videos
feature people helped by Feed the Children. The exhibit closes with
several displays about the nonprofit’s programs and new focus: a
four-pillar approach that includes food relief, access to clean water,
livelihood education and health and education programs.

That approach has been formalized only within the past year, said Kevin Hagan, president and CEO.

“Our
name is very indicative of our origins and what we’ve done for
decades,” he said. “In order to help people long-term, we need to offer a
broader array of programming.

“Things are going very well at Feed the Children, and it’s a new day.”

When
he agreed to take leadership almost a year ago, he knew he was walking
into an organization that had fallen into controversy, prompting the
board to fire founder Larry Jones in a lengthy and litigious separation.

Hagan said the staff remained committed, and he used that energy to turn a corner.

Peter Wright

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