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Students at the Jesuit Refugee Service/USA Refugee Camp Out at Rockhurst University discover first hand what it feels like to carry five gallons of water — about 40 pounds. The camp experience allows participants to show solidarity with nearly 43 million displaced persons worldwide. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

(Kansas City) Aril 23, 2013 — As students at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, walked through the Jesuit Refugee Service/USA Refugee Campout, I started to hear some common phrases: 

• "We couldn't fit."
• "It's too heavy."
• "That is nothing."
• "I couldn't survive."

Over the course of two days, Rockhurst students experienced a brief glimpse into refugees’ daily lives. When students entered the Finucane Jesuit Center, they were given refugee identity cards. Each ID told one refugee’s story from Vietnam, Burma, Sudan, Iraq or Colombia. It spoke about why the refugee fled their home, what happened to their family members and how they arrived in a camp.

With their refugee identities, students continued to move throughout the room, stopping along the way to learn how refugees access housing, water, and food in camps across the globe. Students attempted to carry a forty-pound bucket of water and learn statistics about refugees, such as the average stay in a camp is 17 years. They compared their daily water usage and calorie intake with that of a refugee.

Most students appeared shocked as they started to fully understand the reality of camp life for nearly half of the 43 million displaced persons worldwide currently living in camps. The sheer scope of the global refugee crisis and the hardships refugees face on a daily basis to survive in camps stunned students.

For most, this was their first exposure to the issues surrounding displacement and refugees.

As they neared the end of the tour, some students felt a sense of hopelessness about the seemingly bleak situation. The circumstances that force people to flee their home countries and the conditions in many camps do not inspire optimism. I spoke with students about the work of Jesuit Refugee Service. How JRS accompanies refugees, recognizing their basic needs while offering hope that their lives will continue beyond the camp.

While speaking with students, I mentioned that they most likely encountered refugees in their own lives prior to walking through the camp. A few spoke about resettled refugee populations in their home towns or the Somali population they volunteered with in Kansas City.

Students who recently returned from a service trip in the Dominican Republic felt connected to the current statelessness emergency for Dominican citizens of Haitian decent. Before they left, students asked what they could do to help address these situations.

I encouraged Rockhurst students to advocate for refugees and work with JRS/USA. Refugees are often forgotten and their voices silenced. Students must use their own voice to advocate. Simply by participating in the camp simulation and spreading awareness about the refugee crisis, students advocate for change.

Hopefully, their brief experience walking through a simulated camp will motivate Rockhurst students to demand change and work for improving the lives of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.

By Laura Gaspo
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA Outreach Coordinator

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