Students gain new understanding through mock refugee camp

By Kaitlin Sharpe

As a student living in the United States, I rarely think about the lives of those outside of my small bubble. The world of poverty and war seems far off, taking a backseat to where I am applying to college and what my grades are like at school. Thankfully, this past week, I was given the opportunity to step outside of that bubble and imagine the lives of the 42 million people uprooted by war in the world.

I was given the rare opportunity through my economics class to attend a Doctors Without Borders Exhibit designed to spread awareness of those living in refugee camps. Because of my interest in micro financing in Third World counties, I was extremely excited, and the trip met all of my expectations and more.

My classmates and I began our journey at Balboa Park, where Doctors without Borders set up the “mock refugee camp.” Tents were set up on the grass, just yards away from the street, and the contrast between the two was vast.

The tour, which was only one hour, had an amazing impact. Our guide was an amazing woman named Mele Seger, a Belgian midwife. She had spent months in Africa with Doctors Without Borders, and asked us to imagine we had just become refugees from a war torn country. She then proceeded to take us, step by step, through what one would encounter when they entered a refugee camp.

After entering the border checkpoint, which we had to “bribe” our way through, our group of 12 was led into a small tent. Seger informed us that the tent, which would comfortably fit about 3, would normally be the home to about 14 refugees for months, and in some cases, years. I was shocked. But the tour only got to be a more eye-opening experience as we continued.

Each tour stop had a sign with an intriguing question such as, “Where will I find food?” “Where will I find water?” and most touching, “How will I cope?” Pictures drawn by 10-year-old refugees covered a wall, but the pictures were not typical. Instead of ponies and flowers, drawings of mass murder, guns and violence were the norm. It was depressing that children had witnessed such monstrosities. No one should have to witness murder at such a young age.

From that station on, my group was very somber. The camp began to seem real, and I could start to actually picture the pain and suffering of the refugees. The stations got more and more moving. By the time we got to the malnutrition station with pictures of children who looked more like skeletons, I was on the verge of tears.

But the station also gave me hope. Even though there are over 20 million children in the world who are severely malnourished, the cure is surprisingly simple. Only a month of treatment and high caloric food brings the child back to health. Seger informed us that the problem is not how to cure them, but just raising the money and sending the doctors to do to help.

As a result of this amazing field trip, La Jolla High School students able to attend have a different view of the world around them. People were inspired to donate money, buy shirts and one touched student made it his life goal to be a part of Doctors Without Borders. It is astounding what one small look at Third World struggles can do to students’ mindsets. The world is not such a huge place anymore; instead, it is a place that we can all make a difference in.

Kaitlin Sharpe, a senior at La Jolla High School, is a co-editor-in-chief of the High Tide.