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Program helps restore habitat while restoring human lives

August 04, 2005

VIC LEIPZIG AND LOU MURRAY

A few weeks ago, I took 20 Orange County Conservation Corps members

to the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art to see the fabulous Egyptian

mummy exhibit.

This group of mostly Hispanic inner city kids works on

conservation projects while earning their high school diplomas. The

trip to the Bowers, generously funded by a grant from the museum, was

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part of their education.

Corps members have lives vastly different from mine, and see life

very differently. For example, one of the displays in the Egyptian

exhibit is a model of a funeral barge ferrying a mummy up the Nile.

These model boats were placed in the tomb with the deceased. The

mummy's family was depicted on the barge with him.

When I saw a woman and a small boy on the barge, I assumed that

the woman was the wife of the deceased, and the small boy was his son

or grandson. The corps member standing next to me saw the small

figure as the mummy's little brother because, in his experience,

people his age die -- generally in gang violence.

It's a sad comment on life that these young people expect to die

violently, or expect their friends to die. I hope to show them a life

with more hope and better prospects.

It was the second time this summer that I've taken a group of

corps members to the Bowers, and again I was amazed at how strongly

the corps members responded to the art. They appreciated the fine

craftsmanship on the antique Spanish weapons and loved the Mayan art

gallery.

But they reacted most positively to the plein-air art gallery. The

oil paintings fascinated them.

The corps members didn't have to tell me how much they enjoyed

their trip to the Bowers. They bubbled with excitement as we left.

Some said they had no idea places like that existed, and they wanted

to see more. Others said it was a much better experience seeing it as

an adult than as a third-grader.

Best of all was a comment from one of the teachers at the corps.

He said that no educational approach the teachers had tried had

worked on one particular corps member. But this young man was so

excited by his trip to the Bowers he couldn't stop talking about it.

It was a remarkable experience to see the Bowers Museum through

the eyes of my corps members. Some of them lagged behind the tour in

groups of twos and threes over certain exhibits, discussing them in

very animated fashion, discussing how the paintings were made or how

a certain object might have been used, calling me over to get

involved.

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