Indiana State program simulates refugees‘ living conditions

“Christine” is a 19-year-old refugee from Sudan who walked to Kenya, hoping for a better future after losing her family to war and disease.

What will she experience when she reaches the border? Where will she sleep safely, and will she get enough to eat?

Christine‘s profile — and the profiles of other refugees — was carried by multiple Indiana State University students on Tuesday in the “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” refugee simulation on the lawn outside Indiana State University‘s Cunningham Memorial Library.

More than 65 million refugees and internally displaced persons are living this lifestyle. More than half of the refugees are children.


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The simulation program created by Jesuit Refugee Service helped students understand refugee crisis and advocate on refugees‘ behalf. The experience was an opportunity for students to leave their comfort zones and think about the struggle real refugees face daily.

“It was awkward to be singled out,” said Quinn Purtee of Nashville, Indiana, after he was pulled aside and told to stand in a corner to wait at the border crossing — one of many tents on the library lawn simulating the stops on the journey of refugees.

The border patrol gave him no reason for being detained. It was arbitrary. Other refugees were also questioned, but others passed through seemingly at the whim of the border patrol.

Purtee moved on to a food station where he saw comparisons of what an American could expect for daily meals, compared to the bowl of beans and rice that a refugee would receive — for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

At another tent measuring 6-feet by 6-feet, entire families had to find space. A family might have been comprised of a parent, a child or two, an aunt, grandparent, cousins and might contain a dozen or more people.

The living space was less than half the size of a college dorm room.

For water, the students carried a large, full bucket for 10 steps. Many said it was hard to carry that far, and they could not imagine carrying water for miles, as many refugees do. Advocates pointed out that water hauling in refugee camps is primarily the task of women and children, and it can be dangerous because of the distance, lack of nutrition and violence.

At the education station, some of the students received their own books. Others had to share one book. Some students received rewards of candy for their answers. Others didn‘t. The preferential treatment was not always noticed by the ISU students, but it depicted the experience of refugees based on gender or background.

At each station during the simulation, the ISU students encountered the frustration and hardships that refugees face daily. The final part of the simulation gave time for students to reflect on the experience and consider ways to advocate for refugee justice.

“How did you feel when your possessions were stolen?” asked Zachariah Mathew, associate director of Center for Global Engagement.

“I was crushed,” a student said.

Stealing is common in the camps, Mathew explained, because many people are merely trying to make to the next day.

At the end of the exercise, the participants stopped at the advocacy station to receive more information about refugees and to learn about agencies that address the worldwide refugee crisis.

They then debriefed with Mathew and other leaders in the project.

Pamela Tabor, international student adviser in the Center for Global Engagement, said many university students are unaware of the scope and magnitude of the current refugee crisis.

“We are creating opportunity for them to gain greater understanding and hopefully spark some compassion and understanding,” Tabor said.

Mathew said the exercise removes politics from the issue, and puts the students in the shoes of real people, rather than public opinion.

“The key is we can have different opinions about situations, but the reality is the suffering of millions of people,” Mathew said.

“People suffer because they have no food or water. Can we think about that? When we come to opinions about what to do with them, we get stuck. So, look at what we can do for them.”


Information from (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star:


Information from: Tribune-Star, http://www.tribstar

This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by The (Bloomington) Herald Times.