This website is the home of a free simulation game. The simulation starts with a husband and wife, two children, $50, and a plot of land with a hut. You play the game by making decisions on a yearly basis that include whether to use your land for crops or livestock, do you send the children to school, should the family have more children, do you spend money on medicine, do you invest in infrastructure (buy a shovel, plow, or tractor) or your community, and more.
While making these decisions sounds complicated, it is not. The decisions are presented in a straightforward manner; and, once they are made, the simulation moves you forward a year and informs you what has happened to the family and its farm as a result of your decisions.
Initially, our kid-testers found playing the simulation to be a very bleak experience until they adjusted their thinking about how to play it. My own experience was similar until I played the simulation with a Tsheko Mutungu, a Princeton University student from Zambia, who was visiting my family. Mutungu encouraged me let go of my "American ideals" to educate the farm children explaining that until the farm prospered, I needed them to work on the farm. He also had me select the option to have more children – one every year – so that I could have more help on the farm. Since you start with only $50, if you try to send a child to school, it costs $30/year, a luxury you can't afford at first. And because the school is so far away, not only do you lose crucial money you need for the operation of the farm, but you lose the child's ability to contribute to the work. It is best to make enough money to build a school and then send the kids to it, even though they will be older when they attend.
By playing 3rd World Farmer, players will experience many other occurrences that aren't a part of farming in the United States, including civil war where both sides plunder your resources, raids by guerilla forces, and theft from refugees. The game presents an endless series of setbacks, including drought and disease.
The graphics are rudimentary; the game mechanics are too repetitive (you have to drag and drop a lot); the pages are static without animation; and some of the events are unrealistic (you can raise elephants as livestock). But, the simulation is thought-provoking. Playing the game will teach kids the importance of investing in infrastructure, political leadership, insurance, and community projects including health clinics, schools, roads, and communication. Kids experience the problems, instead of just reading about them.
3rd World Farmer is a game that can be a great catalyst for discussion about some of the issues facing Africa and other third world farmers. And for kids motivated to help, the website provides links to international organizations dealing with world hunger including The World Food Programme and UNICEF.
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