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History students walk in refugee’s shoes during forced migration symposium

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Students had to go through many obstacles in order to enter the camp, including a registration desk and an interview with a judge.

Students had to go through many obstacles in order to enter the camp, including a registration desk and an interview with a judge.

Angela Lee

Angela Lee

Students had to go through many obstacles in order to enter the camp, including a registration desk and an interview with a judge.

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Angela Lee
A medical center was run by doctor Abrar Qureshi, Laura Qureshi, and sophomore Afnaan Qureshi in the middle of the camp.

Have you ever been lost? Have you ever gone for days with little to no basic necessities like food, clothes, and water? Have you ever worried about living to see the next day? These were some of the questions Honors World History freshmen were asked to reflect on during a forced migration symposium on Wednesday, May 9.

Sponsored by WEEFC and run by history teacher Kim Young, the symposium was an opportunity for students to learn more about the refugee crisis around the world in a more personal way after researching this topic for the past few months.

“We were looking for an interactive and engaging way for students to think about the research they’ve been doing as a part of the GIP (Global Inquiry Project) on forced migration,” Young said.

The day started off with a keynote speaker, Ala’a El-Shaar, a member of the Syrian American Medical Society who has helped displaced children at the Syrian border overcome psychological trauma. Freshman Margeaux McCaughey said she was impressed by the speaker’s courage and strength in carrying out the job.

“I absolutely loved the keynote speaker. I think her story was super inspiring,” McCaughey said. “I really admire her for sticking to what she’s supposed to do and sacrificing her time so that she could help others.”

After the speaker, students were brought out to the track where they ran through a simulation of a refugee camp. After running through a quick briefing, each student was given a select number of items, money, and papers before beginning the simulation.

The Global Inquiry Project provided specifications for the simulation, and a representative of the organization, Jud Hendrix, helped run the simulation. In addition, teachers, parents, and student volunteers were recruited, including WHS parents Dr. Abrar Qureshi and Laura Qureshi. Having spent time near the Syrian border multiple times, they both brought their personal experiences with them when manning the simulation’s medical center.

“I think Ms. Young has done an incredible job of bringing a “real-world” perspective to the students. She’s organized very beautiful props and the event was very well done. Compared to a seminar, it’s a more hands-on experiment and makes kids think about what could have happened,” Dr. Qureshi said.

Mrs. Qureshi also noted that the simulation cannot capture the true loss that most refugees feel when arriving at a camp.

“When we asked a couple of students how they were doing, they said they were OK. But in a real world situation, they may not have shoes, their clothes would be in tatters, and they would probably be exhausted,” Mrs. Qureshi said. “[But] through this experiment, they can ponder what it could have been like.”

After going through the simulation, freshman Neil Malur said he was surprised by the difficulties in entering the refugee camp. Experiencing this firsthand gave him a different understanding of others’ situations.

“I thought that it would be a little straightforward in that the refugee camp would be a bit more organized. It surprised me when I realized how many times we got detained and had to be sent back,” he said.

After the simulation, students ate lunch in the cafeteria before they heard speakers from Weston such as Debbie Gotbetter and Dr. Qureshi, who both spoke about their experiences helping Syrian refugees. Another speaker was World Bank official Edith Bowles, who talked via skype from Myanmar about the ongoing ethnic violence in that region.

After the symposium, McCaughey echoed what many students felt when she said the experience taught her to see her own life with a new perspective.

“What I take away from GIP is that we are very privileged. I get to wake up and feel secure in my environment, and there are definitely refugees out there who haven’t felt secure for a very long time,” McCaughey said. “I definitely feel very thankful for that.”

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History students walk in refugee’s shoes during forced migration symposium