Strands of worn cloth form the ceiling and woven grass mats account for the floors of the waiting room. It is here a student is briefed prior to his departure into the life of an African child.
The student grabs a MP3 player and headset and embarks on his tour, stepping through a wall of dangling beads into a room adorned with wooden tribal masks and the bustling sounds of an African village.
He is directed to step out of his world and into one of three African children’s identities. The hypothetical role he assumes in this phase decides the path he will follow throughout the exhibit, which tells of the various hardships – such as rape, war and disease – that an African child may face.
At the grim health clinic inside the tent, the student is administered a mock AIDS examination, receiving the results in the form of a bold red hand stamp that indicates either positive or negative. No visitors have happy endings.
The World Vision AIDS Experience tent, currently in the Arbor, consists of a 20- by 60-foot structure, and provides the MP3 players and headsets to students in order to narrate a 20-minute audio/visual tour on the impact AIDS has on children in Africa.
Following participants’ diagnosis, they proceed to a chapel displaying black-and-white photographs of hundreds of HIV/AIDS-positive individuals and a prayer wall where they are encouraged to post messages of hope and support.
Finally, students are funneled to the exhibit’s exterior where a response team is on hand to discuss students’ emotional and spiritual reactions to the tent. Participants can also educate themselves at a table that provides information on World Vision child sponsorship programs, and they can also contribute monetary donations.
Lauren Alery, experiential marketing producer for World Vision – a Christian organization that strives to reduce poverty – said the campaign allows students to experience the realities African children face and formulate a personalized reaction.
“This is an awareness outreach program about pediatric aid in Africa that gives students the opportunity to step out of their own lives and into the life of a child living in Africa,” Alery said. “It also gives people the opportunity to respond emotionally and spiritually, and practically shows students the ways in which they can make an impact.”
In conjunction with World Vision, UCSB’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship installed the exhibit this week before the tent continues to travel to other college campuses nationwide. The exhibit will remain at UCSB until April 19, and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Talar Ohanian, a third-year history major and member of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, said students often fail to recognize the impact they can have on global affairs.
“Students forget we can do a lot,” Ohanian said. “We are working to get a [rehabilitation] center built in Malawi and to collect $25,000 through fund raising and donations.”
After experiencing the AIDS exhibit, Nikka Cabello, a second-year business economics major, said she thought the exhibit was an effective method of inspiring student involvement in global affairs because of the anguish the personal accounts conveyed.
“I think it’s effective because, as opposed to some big presentation in Campbell Hall, you actually experience something,” Cabello said. “Once you go through and are actually living the life of an abducted child soldier you have a feeling in your heart that you want to help.”
Regardless of the event’s religious nature, Jacqueline Sarmiento, a third-year biology major, said the Christian undertones did not hinder the event’s effectiveness.
“It’s a very good experience,” Sarmiento said. “Everyone should go through at least once and I don’t think it has any effect if it is religious or not.”