By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Group hopes to change perspectives with traveling exhibit illustrating the devastation of AIDS through the eyes of the children most affected


The exhibit takes visitors through the childrens' villages, through replicas of their homes, rooms and schools.

Ventura County Star

Could you survive the journey as a child whose family has been devastated by AIDS?

That's the hypothetical question posed through a free, virtual exhibit at Calvary Community Church in which visitors walk through an African village to see, hear and experience one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time.

"One of the main elements that distances it from other exhibits is the fact that it is so personal," said tour manager Jonathan Brown of Tacoma, Wash. "The experience is not another walk along with a bunch of people, look at pictures, read some information and walk out, but one that forces you to step into the life of a child being impacted by AIDS."

Launched in the fall of 2005, "World Vision Experience: AIDS — Step Into Africa" attracted nearly 20,000 people in the first year in 10 north America cities. The interactive exhibit is designed to raise awareness about the effects of the pandemic on children in developing countries, with local churches and faith-based organizations serving as hosts to engage the community on the issue of how AIDS is devastating parts of Africa.

"We are all excited to host the exhibit and invite the local community to come join us as we do our part to make a difference in the lives of those most affected by this disease — our children," said pastor Kirk DeWitt of Newbury Park.

"This is a great opportunity to see through the eyes of a child whose life has been changed forever by AIDS."

Visitors to the 2,340-square-foot exhibit walk though a replica of an African village while listening on headsets to the stories of four children — Kombo, Babirye, Emmanuel and Mathabo.

"As you walk through the walls of the experience, you find yourself in a world that is a virtual maze of an African village," Brown explained. With a headset serving as a tour guide, "you see pictures of them and their villages, you sit on real life representations of their beds, walk through their schools, and step with them into the clinic where you learn what your future will look like."

Unfortunately, World Vision cannot take thousands of Americans to Africa to witness the tragedy of the AIDS pandemic personally, said Richard Stearns, president and chief executive officer of World Vision, U.S., a Christian humanitarian organization that works with children, families and communities to reach their full potential by tackling causes of poverty and injustice.

"So we've created this exhibit to enable people to step into Africa' and learn more about effects of the greatest humanitarian disaster of our time and how they can help," Stearns said. "No one can do everything, but each of us can to something to help turn the tide against AIDS."

The experience truly empowers individuals to take steps in the fight against AIDS, Brown said.

"For some, it means personally eliminating the stigma they may associate with the pandemic. For others it may be sponsoring a child and taking responsibility for providing the resources they need to fight against AIDS," he said. "Others find themselves drawn to being voices for those that are hit hard by AIDS and advocating on their behalf."

Going through the exhibit is a life-changing experience, DeWitt said.

"It is very easy to get wrapped up in our own problems and busy schedules, while overlooking the opportunities we have to help people in real need," he said. "Ventura and Los Angeles counties have a role to play on the global scene, using the connections and resources we've been given to help and serve others."

Event organizers want the exhibit to draw communities together in this fight, Brown said.

"The experience is a wake-up call that makes us step into a crisis," he said. "Either we respond or we walk away. We hope everyone chooses to respond."


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