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A Mock Refugee Camp In Schenley Plaza Brings An International Issue Home

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA

In the small, grassy field at Schenley plaza, a group of middle school students were greeted among a cluster of makeshift tents and handed IDs. One was for a 12-year-old from the Syrian Arab Republic, it was stamped with the word “refugee.”

It was part of "Forced From Home," an outdoor exhibition taking place through Monday. It’s a free guided experience into the lives of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people.

Students were taken to the first station, consisting of a wall filled with cards representing personal items like blankets, money, pictures and food. The students were also given a back story, told why they’re being forced to leave their homes and then given five seconds to grab five of the items and move to the next station.

Jason Cone, executive director of Doctors Without Borders, said he wants people to understand why mass migrations are happening and why refugees risk it all.

“We hope you see this not as a political matter, but as one very much affecting fellow human beings and one that very much demands our attention and compassion,” he said.

Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Medical supplies used by Doctors Without Borders on display in the Forced From Home exhibit.

Sachin Desai, a pediatrician with Doctors Without Borders, shepherded the middle schoolers through each station. He explained the illnesses that refugees are susceptible to because of their limited resources.

“When you don’t have any food, you’re already steps behind,” he said. “That with the cold and being wet and not having access to shelter makes you vulnerable.”

He and the other tour guides have spent time in conflict areas and worked with refugees first-hand. At the exhibition, he shared personal stories of treating malaria and cholera.

Cone said the political rhetoric around refugees and immigration has dehumanized the people behind these issues. 

“But we think it’s important to bring some of the facts and some of the humanity to this conversation which has been really lacking in most of the conversation around the election,” he said.

The medical humanitarian organization is not directly involved in resettlement of refugees, but Cone said the doctors and nurses offering medical care and assistance to displaced populations in war zones are eye-witnesses to their plight. 

"To us, migration is not an abstract issue," he said. "To us, refugees and migrants are not just news stories. They are real people, fighting for their lives. We hear their stories throughout their journeys. Stories we must continue to tell."

Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Students listen to a practitioner with Doctors Without Borders at the Forced From Home exhibit at Schenley Plaza in Oakland.

Sarah Schneider is WESA's education reporter. From early learning to higher education, Sarah is interested in students and educators working to create more equitable systems. Sarah previously worked with news outlets in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Idaho. She is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale where she worked for the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian.
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