Since January, Our Response Director Steve Fredlund has been waiting for this week to come.
Fredlund said he will never forget the phone call informing him Cambridge was selected as one of only three cities across the United States to receive the Step into Africa exhibit in 2012.
Step into Africa is a 2,500 square foot interactive exhibit that allows Americans to step into the lives of actual children affected by HIV and AIDS in the hardest-hit region of the world: sub-Saharan Africa, where about 22 million people are infected with HIV or AIDS (two-thirds of the world’s total cases).
Visitors walk through a replica of an African village and experience the effects of the pandemic in a real way as they listen to a personal audio track relating the story of one of three children—Kombo, Babiyre and Mathabo.
Step into Africa is free and open to the public from Saturday, Sept. 22 through Sunday, Sept. 30. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily except 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 30 and will be located at the Isanti County Fairgrounds in Cambridge.
The public is encouraged to make reservations in advance at www.worldvisionexperience.org/ourresponse. Volunteer opportunities are also available and can also be made through the website.
Fredlund explained the exhibit, which is a self-guided tour that will take approixmiately 20 to 30 minutes, is recommended for children age 13 and above, but ultimately it’s the parents decision to decide if their child is mature enough for the exhibit. World Vision representatives will be on hand to help guide parents in their decision if needed.
Our Response, which formed in 2009, is a partnership between the people of East Central Minnesota and World Vision.
Fredlund explained Our Response is a local, grass roots “response” to global poverty, disease and suffering through the coming together of East Central Minnesota churches, businesses, schools and individuals.
“The Step into Africa exhibit has been on our radar since Our Response was formed,” Fredlund explained. “We thought we would look at hosting the event five or six years after our formation, but due to the tremendous support and community partnerships we received, we decided to apply and were approved. It was a very extensive application process. We were very excited when we received the news we would be able to host the event.”
Fredlund explained 330 Kivurugan kids have been sponsored through Our Response, and the group has also fully funded a $40,000 nutrition project that is bringing meals, milk and education to the children in northern Rwanda.
He explained the ultimate goal of Our Response is to finance at least $1 million of World Visions’ work in Kivuruga, Rwanda, culminating in a celebration of their self-sustainability by 2025.
Fredlund explained World Vision selected Our Response for the Step into Africa exhibit because it was impressed by the number of church and community partners the organization has, the ability to host the exhibit at a neutral site such as the fairgrounds, and the progress the organization has made in Kivuruga.
“During one of our conference calls, World Vision wanted to talk with a couple of local pastors about the commitment toward having the Step into Africa exhibit,” Fredlund said. “We ended up having 15 different pastors from all different churches on the phone call. I think they realized the passion the community had for holding an event like this.”
Along with visiting Step into Africa, the community is invited to hear the story of Princess Kasune Zulu of Zambia, who has lost both parents, a sister, and a brother to the AIDS pandemic. She is a voice for those, “whose voice cannot be heard,” and the author of “Warrior Princess.”
Princess Zulu will share her inspiring message on Saturday, Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m. at The Gathering Place, 145 2nd Ave. SE, Cambridge, and Sunday, Sept. 23 at 9:45 a.m. at Cambridge First Baptist Church, 304 Main St. So. Princess Zulu will be available for a short meet and greet following each appearance.
Fredlund encourages everyone to visit the exhibit.
“Most people never have the opportunity to visit Africa and this will give them an opportunity to see what life is like for those living in Africa based on real people and real experiences,” Fredlund said. “The goal is for everyone who goes through the exhibit to take one step closer to compassion and understanding. Your heart will be broken, and you will feel for these kids.”
Fredlund wanted to give much credit to all the volunteers who have been working on the Step into Africa exhibit, particularly Chris and Kelli McDonald, who are the project managers for the event.
“All of our committee members have been wonderful,” Fredlund said. “Chris and Kelli McDonald have been exceptional and have done a phenomenal job of pulling together a great team for this event.”
For more information on Step into Africa visit www.worldvisionexperience.org/ourresponse.