DIXFIELD — Learning that hunger in Maine affects one out of every eight people came as a surprise to Eric Hawkins, a sophomore at Dirigo High School.

Freshman Nicholas Davenport didn’t realize how difficult it can be for older people as they begin to lose their hearing and sight, and find it a problem to open medicine bottles.

These surprises and much more were lessons learned by Dirigo High School students as they participated in the annual Diversity and Cultural Awareness Day Friday.

“We’re trying to bring education to life. To bring the world to Dirigo,” said Norman Greenberg, a learning lab teacher who has organized the event for the past four years.

Dozens of presenters offering varying views of life and cultures were available to the nearly 300 high school students who took part. Paula Steele of Carthage served foods that people would likely have eaten 2,000 years ago such as red lentils and barley loaves. Youngsters also ate it like it would have been eaten, too, with their fingers.

Foreign students attending Gould Academy in Bethel spoke about their lives growing up in Afghanistan, China, Japan or Korea. And Laura Val, a native of Romania who grew up in Israel, explained that perception may be different among varying cultures.

“What we see we draw from our past experiences,” she told students. “Our core beliefs are transmitted and we may not be aware of that.”

Betsy Noyes, a sophomore from Peru, and Taron Mazza, a freshman from Dixfield, took part in several socially conscious workshops, including Healthy Relationships and Being Gay in High School.

“I have gay friends. It’s good to know what people go through,” Noyes said.

“People need to respect everybody and this helps,” Mazza said.

Freshmen Isaac Gould and Davenport participated in several workshops, including one presented by Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant on crimes based on bias.

“I can’t believe some of the things that happen,” Gould said.

“Some people are treated differently,” Davenport added.

Leah Wolfsong led a group of students in drumming and playing other percussion instruments. Additional presentations included, among others, those on immigrants in Maine, surviving the Holocaust, living with brain injuries, male gender roles, and how tobacco companies target young people, along with human trafficking, Buddhism, Environmental Volunteer Opportunities, and Homelessness in Maine.

“We do a lot of good things here at Dirigo High School every day,” Principal Michael Poulin said. “This is a very good supplement to that.”

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