Mt Pleasant News

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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 18, 2018

IW’s Refugee Simulation Sunday explores crisis

Event seeks to challenge participants’ point of view
By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News | Apr 11, 2018

More than a fundraiser, the Refugee Simulation taking place on Sunday, April 15, at Iowa Wesleyan University is meant to create empathy for the plight of people who have been forced to flee their homes.

The simulation will begin with an “explosion.” Participants will be separated from the family units they were placed with when they walk through the door. They will be blindfolded, simulating the way displaced people are blind to what will happen next, and will have to reconnect with the people in their family.

“We’re trying to create experiences of frustration,” said Joy Lapp, Associate Professor of Religion at Iowa Wesleyan University (IW). “They will experience the kind of emotions, on a minimum level, that a refugee might experience.”

From there, participants will make it to the U.N., where they will receive paperwork in a language they don’t understand. At the U.N., they will be given a list of supplies they can choose from, necessities they need to survive. When they request the supplies, they will be told it is no longer available.

This is just a few of the hurdles participants in the Refugee Simulation will face. Part of the experience is the opportunity to seriously consider the way refugees are forced to leave their homes, cross the border with their home country behind them into a country where they don’t speak the language.

The simulation is organized by five IW students in Lapp’s Social Justice and Service class in partnership with Iowa Welcomes Its Immigrant Neighbors (Iowa WINS), which is a group through First Presbyterian Church.

Lapp said the Refugee Simulation is an event Iowa WINS has attempted to do a couple times, but never gathered enough participation. This year, working with the students, she thought they had a good chance of success.

There are close to 100 participants signed up for Sunday’s simulation, many of whom are students. While anyone is welcome to participate, Lapp said that it is probably more suited for teenagers and older.

Another aspect of the simulation is the raising money for Justice For Our Neighbors (JFON), an organization that welcomes immigrants by providing affordable, high-quality immigration legal services and engaging in advocacy for immigrant rights.

While participation in the simulation is free for IW students, there is a small fee for participants outside of the university.

Lapp’s students are very familiar with JFON. In her Global Issues class, students have worked with JFON for several years, volunteering at immigration clinics in Ottumwa, Columbus Junction and Cedar Rapids.

At the end of the simulation, Executive Director of JFON Sol Varisco-Santini will lead a debriefing. In a meeting with event organizers last week, Varisco-Santini said that she is grateful for people like the students at IW who set out to engage others in the community in education about the refugee crisis.

“Sometimes you need people to take the lead, put a seed in something. That’s who you are right now,” Varisco-Santini said.

Miranda Marshall, one of the student event organizers, said that planning this event has opened her eyes to the difficulties refugees face and made her more grateful for what she has. After watching a documentary, “The Lost Boys of Sudan,” in class, Marshall’s eyes were opened even more in the ways refugees are treated differently.

Already, Marshall said they have more participants signed up than they anticipated and the activities will have to be expanded into the hallway of the Social Hall to make room for everyone.

While the event may be challenging, Marshall hopes everyone who arrives will participate and get the full experience. It will be frustrating, she admitted. The simulation is designed for people to fail — but she hopes they can learn how to succeed too.

“We hope we can help people feel more for the situation of refugees who really are forced to flee their homes and that they will be motivated to take action, speak up on behalf of people and this experience and to become involved,” Lapp said.

The Refugee Simulation is taking place in the Social Hall on IW’s campus on Sunday, April 15, from 2 to 5 p.m. To register, email or call 720-201-3697.

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