A simulation was held Friday through the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice (SCSJ) that provided participants with a glimpse into the obstacles a refugee faces in fleeing war, poverty and persecution.
The simulation, titled “Omaha Neighbors Share the Journey: A Refugee Through Stories,” was put on by the SCSJ in partnership with Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, Inc. and was open to students, faculty and the commu- nity.
Yasmine Jakmouj, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Refugee Community Service Coordinator, helped organize the event.
“Basically, we just want to spread the word as much as we can to all groups of people on campus because, while this is an SCSJ event, if you don’t know anything about it, we still obviously want people to come and learn and engage in these issues.”
Participants were taken on a journey through Harper that simulated the difficulties faced by refugees, and were able to hear the personal testimonies of refugees from the community.
“Obviously, it’s not going to be exactly what it is like to be a refugee, but I think hearing personal testimonies is so important,” said Jakmouj.
The event began in the SCSJ where each of the participants were given a new identity and told to take a bag that contained items like rice or blankets for their journey along with anything they had already brought with them. Some participants were also given crutches or baby dolls to care for.
Once the simulation began, participants were told they must flee from their home village because of an outside threat. They were quickly ushered out of the SCSJ and up the stairs to a new room in Harper where they heard the personal story of a refugee from the community.
Further narration was then provided to navigate the group’s journey as they continued moving through different rooms in Harper. Each room held a refugee from the community who shared their personal stories with the group.
At one point, participants were faced with the obstacle of getting past a “border guard” in order to flee to a refugee camp. The “guard” only allowed those who traded valuable items such as phones or jewelry to pass in order to demonstrate the fear that refugees face in crossing the border into an unknown country.
Once reaching the refugee camp, the group was told to imagine having to wait 10 years before being able to leave.
“For me, trying to wrap my head around that, one year seems so long for me as a student, and the waiting and the not knowing, the toll that that takes on a person,” said Kristin Watt, a first-year graduate student and the graduate assistant at the SCSJ who helped organize the event.
She added that “the resilience of refugees is amazing.”
By the end of the simulation, participants had safely arrived at “an airport in the U.S.” and had heard the personal testimonies of five refugees from the Omaha community.
Kristina Davis, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, said that the testimonies were the most impactful part of the simulation.
“Having them sit and look you in the eyes and say, ‘I lived through this and I’m thanking God that I’m here now,’ that was a lot. It was a lot to really get a feel for.”
Following the simulation, participants took part in a small group reflection to talk about their experience in the event. They were then given the opportunity to attend a reception to learn more about different community partners involved with the refugee community.
“We oftentimes see this refugee experience as something going on in the news or in different countries, but there’s so many refugee-serving agencies in Omaha as well as refugee-owned businesses that we can support, and so my hope is that they take this experience and bring it as locally as possible,” said Watt.