The Falcon | Volume 83, Issue 53
Published 5/29/13 | Log In
Simulated tour shows lives of those displaced by war, racial tensions
By ALLISON NORTHROP, Assistant News Editor
Published: January 23, 2013
Clad in burqas and hijabs, a group of Seattle Pacific students were assigned to walk through Seattle’s International District to experience what it’s like to live like a refugee.
The group adjusted their head coverings and snapped photos of each other on their cell phones before venturing out into a simulated world of head lice, food rations and stacks of legal forms.
Twenty Seattle Pacific University students devoted their Saturday to a program called The Refugee Project: Walk in My Shoes, run by the organization World Relief. Those involved learned about the life of a refugee by listening to speakers and walking through a simulation designed to give insight into a refugee’s relocation process.
In a small community room located inside a building that offers low income housing in Seattle’s International District, participants began the day listening to Refugee Project Coordinator Sandra Van Der Pol discuss the refugees’ experience.
As students filed in, Van Der Pol passed around laminated pictures drawn by refugee children depicting violent experiences from their past.
“A refugee is always persecuted,” Van Der Pol said, explaining the difference between a refugee and an immigrant, adding that a refugee is forced to leave their country.
Van Der Pol told the group that now with the Syrian civil war, there are close to 22 million refugees dislocated from their homes.
World Relief, a Christian-based organization, is one of the five organizations in Seattle that receive refugees through the United Nations. Their job starts when the refugees arrive at the airport and ends six months later. Last fiscal year, Van Der Pol said World Relief helped 540 refugees.
“We’ve got a wide spectrum of refugees. Some come with their iPods, and some come illiterate,” Van Der Pol said.
Students were given a sheet that had “MROF EHT” written in bold letters with instructions to fill in the blanks from right to left within five minutes, giving the effect of filling out a legal form in a different language.
Van Der Pol asked the group to shout out words that explained how they felt when they were filling out the form. “Stressed, inadequate, panicked, frustrated, dumb, angry, worried and useless” were a few words the group came up with.
“You realize their future relies on these forms and how accuratly they fill out the forms,” Van Der Pol said, pointing to a mishmash of legal forms pasted on the wall.
The participants were then split into groups of four or five students and were assigned a country to be a refugee from. They had 30 minutes to memorize facts about their “family” and to put on their countries’ traditional clothing.
The groups travelled to three different stations, all mimicking different processes a refuge would have to go through.
A health screening and food rations showed what one would experience in a refugee camp before coming to the U.S.
At the food station, the groups were told that they should use dried dung from animals as fuel to boil their water.
During the simulated health screening, hats and head coverings were whipped off men and women’s heads and they were told to shave their hair so they wouldn’t get lice.
“I felt pretty shocked and kind of sad. You see how refugees are treated,” junior Destiny Hernandez said.
The third station was the U.S. State Department, where groups were asked questions like why they left their country and which U.S. Documents are important.
On average, Van Der Pol said a refugee’s journey to freedom takes more than 17 years, and less than 1/2 percent of refugees will get a chance to resettle.
After moving between stations, the groups reconvened to discuss their experience.
“It feels like a disrespect of culture and a lack of understanding,” junior Sammy Wing said. “You’re in a place, and it feels like people don’t understand you; you’re just another number, not a real person.”
Van Der Pol asked 17-year-old Eric Schesche to share his experience as a refugee.
“People were very mean. Sometimes people say, ‘hey, go back to your country,’” Schesche said, who was born in a Togolese refugee camp located in Benin.
Schesche said he played soccer with rags tied together for a ball to keep his mind off food, but some days he couldn’t walk from starvation.
“Soccer was a sport we played all the time,” Schesche said. “It made us forget about food.”
Schesche, now a senior at Seattle Urban Academy, said he wants to go to SPU and play soccer.
After going through the project, Senior Dre Anderson said he gained a new perspective.
“You start to get a different framework of what necessity is,” Anderson said. “It’s not a cell phone.”