Walking a Mile in the Shoes of a Refugee
Your name is Matilde. You are from Sudan. You fled to Kenya during Sudan’s civil war. You left home and ran when you heard gunshots and saw people scattering everywhere, dead bodies in the streets. You lost your father and brother in the war, along with other relatives and friends. You walked for three days to get to safety in Kenya, and now you live in an overfull refugee camp with more than 180,000 people. You wonder which members of your family and friends are still alive, and you wonder when you will be able to go back to your home in Sudan.
If you had walked into the Great Hall one night last September, you would have heard Matilde’s story and the stories of others like her as part of a refugee simulation hosted by Immaculata’s Catholic Relief Services (CRS) student ambassadors. Using a guide developed by Jesuit Refugee Service, the students set up various stations where members of the IU community could get a glimpse of the daily struggles faced by more than 65 million forcibly displaced people and their hopes for a better future.
At the shelter station, Kris Ferrara ’19 showed visitors a tent where typical refugee families live. Each person is supposed to have a minimum of 37 square feet, but crowding in refugee camps means that few people actually receive that much space. Ferrara invited groups of four people into the tent and asked them to imagine what it would be like for a family to sleep, cook meals, and eat in such a cramped area.
At the food station, Jess Morrell, associate director of campus ministry, showed participants a sample breakfast, lunch, and dinner that students eat in IU’s dining hall, and then compared it with three meager meals of rice and beans that a typical refugee receives. While most Americans have access to a variety of food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, Morrell explained, refugees usually eat the same things over and over again and get an average of only 1,300 calories per person each day.
At the water station, Dean Forlano ’19 pointed to a gallon of water that a refugee would receive each day in a camp. He then contrasted this with a five-gallon container that represents the water Americans would use in just two minutes of showering. Refugees often have to carry water long distances from a well. Forlano asked visitors to carry the 41-pound five-gallon container a few steps in order to get a sense of how laborious it is.
Dan Ericsson ’19 told participants about medical care in refugee camps. What would it be like to be examined and receive shots from health care workers who probably don’t speak your language and who may not have a translator to tell you what diseases you might have and what vaccines you are being given? Many refugees are also malnourished and have suffered physical and emotional trauma as a result of the violence that led them to flee their homes.
Maria Pisano ’19, president of IU’s chapter of CRS student ambassadors, demonstrated what schooling is like in refugee camps, if it is available at all. According to Jesuit Refugee Service, only half of children affected by crises are enrolled in primary school, and only a quarter are in middle school. For those few refugee children who are in school, resources are scarce. Pisano asked groups of participants to share one book and one pencil. When she asked someone to find information in the book, one “student” read it aloud, while the others
watched passively. It’s not easy to learn much when you don’t have basic supplies to engage with your class.
At the end of the simulation, Emma Richey ’19 invited everyone to use a QR code to email their government representatives and ask them to support efforts to help refugees. Richey asked visitors to guess how long most refugees live away from their homes, and then she said that 17 years is the average length of displacement.
In light of this vast humanitarian crisis, Pope Francis has urged the Church and the world to “reach out, open your arms to migrants and refugees. Share their journey.”
About Catholic Relief Services
In 1943, the Roman Catholic Bishops of the United States established Catholic Relief Services as a means to assist war-torn Europe and its refugees following World War II. Today, they continue their focus on breaking the cycle of poverty through agricultural initiatives, community banks, health, education and clean water projects, which are developed to be community-based and sustainable.
CRS focuses on issues such as human trafficking, climate change, global hunger and migration. Immaculata’s CRS student ambassadors are developing programming related to these areas as well as incorporating ethical trade, which affects all four of these issues.
For more information on CRS, please visit www.crs.org.