Fairfield students typically worry about exams, breakups and roommate drama. However, on Sept. 20 for the second year in a row, at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts, they were given a chance to learn about people their age who have much more serious issues, such as fearing for their lives, access to food and clean water, and major health issues. These people who survive in living nightmare situations are refugees.
For the Syrian Refugee Simulation, hosted by Jesuit Universities Humanitarian Action Network, students walked around the lobby of the Quick Center and stopped at different stations to learn about the different stages that refugees went through when they entered a camp.
The stations, in chronological order, were Registration, Pick Shelter, Food and Water, Child Friendly Spaces, Health, Education and Exit.
Occupying each station were students who had prepared a short presentation about each stage for their Politics of Humanitarian Action course, along with students in the Introduction to Humanitarian Action course and students in JUHAN. These presenters revealed horrifying statistics to the student attendees who were simulating the refugee experience for First Year Experience credit, a class requirement or simply for the educational experience.
“This event enables students to experience in a powerful way the refugee experience while joining in solidarity with 65 million refugees worldwide,” commented Associate Director of the Center for Faith and Public Life and Director of JUHAN Julie Mughal. “Each student is provided with a real-life refugee profile and for the next 20 minutes or so they are transformed into that identify.”
Junior Kaitie Emmert, who takes Politics of Humanitarian Action, presented the statistics of the Food and Water booth.
“Each person in a refugee camp receives $14 to $21 of food per month,” explained Emmert. “The average cost of food per person in the U.S. is $173 per month. Thirty liters of water per person per day is allotted to each person in a refugee camp each day for consumption, cooking, cleaning and sanitation. This is one-tenth of the amount used by the average American.”
The students at the Health table explained the importance of children being given proper healthcare. If they are not deemed healthy enough, they cannot be educated and cannot go on to get jobs and exit the camp. A poster at the Exit table explained that the three options upon exiting the camp are to go back to Syria, apply for resettlement — with no guarantee of acceptance — or stay put in the camp.
One attendee of the event was Ornellie Kashika, a freshman at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport. Kashika was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After Kashika’s father was killed and her mother and five of her siblings were kidnapped in their home one night when she was 12 years old, Kashika, her sister, brother-in-law, nieces and nephews left the country and were relocated to a refugee camp in Zimbabwe.
“There was no electricity, we had to eat rice and beans every single day,” said Kashika. “We had to sleep on the floor, even in the winter. We had no mattresses. Life was hard.”
After living in a refugee camp for five years, Kashika, who did not speak a word of English, was able to attend Bassick High School and learn the language. Through hard work and perseverance, Kashika was able to graduate high school, attend college and maintain a job as a fee collector in the business office at Action for Bridgeport Community Development, Inc.
Kashika’s message to all refugees is, “All refugees need to stay strong and have courage and keep on trying. I have a friend who can’t speak English; because she doesn’t like to try, she can’t learn the language. If you try and keep on trying you get better.”
Junior Viviana Micciche, who worked at the final table at which donations were made and people signed up for JUHAN, explained the importance of the event.
“My station goes over the three big things we want to accomplish,” said Micciche. “Number one is getting educated, … secondly, we want people to spread the word, … and lastly, to take action. We want people to be signing petitions that are going to be helping refugees, as well as making donations if that’s a possibility.”
JUHAN Fellow Deirdre McElroy ‘17 also commented on the event.
“I hope that this event helps raise awareness of what is happening in Syria and the refugee crisis overall,” said McElroy. “This is a huge humanitarian crisis and I don’t think that when people hear about it, they necessarily think about it from the point of view that a refugee has. So I am hoping to show people that that is an important point of view that should be considered and at the end of the day, these refugees are humans that are suffering.”
“I think [having events like this] helps,” commented Kashika. “A lot of people don’t know about refugees, so if they have events like this, then some people will get to know and then those who are willing to help will help refugees.”
JUHAN Fellow Sophia Bolanos ‘18, commented on the fact that Fairfield students can in fact make a difference in situations like this one.
“We, as students, sometimes forget how much power we have,” said Bolanos. “We have so many opportunities to spread the word about issues going on all over the world. We have opportunities to engage with influential people and inspire them to care and to take action. We are powerful and influential; we just need to remember that we can make a difference.”