USA: A Powerful Experience – Students at Gonzaga College HS Raise Awareness about Refugees

12 September 2018

Gonzaga College High School students participate in the "Walk a Mile in My Shoes " refugee simulation. (Gonzaga College High School)

As a Jesuit institution, Gonzaga College High School has a proud history of cultivating ‘men for others,’ which includes advocating on behalf of refugees and working to confront the global refugee crisis.  

Earlier this year, Gonzaga hosted its annual Ignatian Heritage Daywhen more than 900 students and community members participated in the JRS Walk a Mile in My Shoes Simulation. Students were able to sit in refugee tents set up by ShelterBox and experience the difficult reality refugees face in terms of resources and limitations. In an experience that was powerful for everyone involved, students could more clearly visualize what it means to be displaced.  

“The kids hear about the refugee camps, but the reality of what that means is something they don’t really understand. Seeing how much refugees get for eating, washing, drinking, and cooking made a big impact,” noted Gonzaga Religion Department teacher Mrs. Carol Corgan.  

The simulation fit perfectly into a day dedicated to learning about the legacy of Fr. Pedro Arrupe and hearing from speakers about the global refugee crisis. Gonzaga Religion Department Chair, Dr. Harry Rissetto, another organizer of the simulation, explained, “Christ calls us to be advocates for those in need. Refugee populations are a place where Christ is present in our world today. We wanted to introduce the entire Gonzaga community to the plight of refugees and migrants around the world.”  

Students also raised awareness about refugee issues on their campus by partnering with JRS/USA and UNHCR to produce Global Conversations, a video project showcasing cross-cultural conversations between Gonzaga students and refugee students around the world. Students spoke to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, Somali refugees in Kenya, and displaced persons in Greece. JRS staff also facilitated student exchanges with Syrian refugees in Lebanon at the JRS Frans Van Der Lugt Center. The project allowed students on both sides of the globe to connect in a meaningful way, recognize their similarities and differences, and expand their worldview. 

These experiences have brought a heightened awareness of the plight of refugees to Gonzaga. “Helping refugees is a high priority for Pope Francis. These kids are missing out on a valuable education. As a Jesuit school, we need to be in solidarity with that and we need to participate in some shape or form,” Mrs. Corgan said.   

JRS works with schools, parishes, and communities across the country to advocate on behalf of refugees through these experiences and educational opportunities. As Dr. Rissetto noted, “JRS is our line of communication to parts of the world that are difficult to access. JRS is invaluable in that regard.”  

 Want to organize your own Refugee Action Team or host a simulation in your church, school, or community? Take a look at our materials here and download the toolkit to begin today. 


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