Video: Syria Solidarity Week. Students Organize for Syria at UCF set up a tent to bring awareness to the people affected by the Syrian Civil War. Video by Arnold Godoy, Central Florida Future. Video by Arnold Godoy, Central Florida Future
A makeshift shelter erected by members of Students Organize for Syria gave students a glimpse into the living conditions of Syrian refugees.
The Syrian Refugee Tent, which occupied the Free Speech Lawn from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, comprised a three-walled blue tarp shelter filled with a small mattress, floor mat, blanket and a few scant items that together represented the possessions of an average refugee. A box set near the entrance of the shelter was filled with scraps of paper bearing the names and stories of a selection of real-life people currently displaced by the war in Syria.
The shelter was erected to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the Syrian Civil War. The Syrian Civil War began in March 2011 after a group of teens was arrested and tortured by the security forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to the BBC. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets in peaceful protests that by July had escalated into an armed opposition movement to depose al-Assad.
More than 11 million Syrians were forced to flee their homes by 2014, and 3.9 million are living in other countries as refugees. Almost four out of five Syrians now live in poverty, according to the United Nations' Impact of Syria Crisis Report 2014.
Hiba Shaban, a senior biomedical sciences major and the president of Students Organize for Syria at UCF, said that her organization decided to erect the shelter as a way to expose more students to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria.
"I'm originally Syrian; I've been following the revolution for the past four years," Shaban said. "I wanted to raise awareness here on campus. The inside of the tent simulates a refugee tent: There's some food, a little bit of water, but not much else."
Dimarie Garcia, a junior communication sciences and disorders major, helped to build her organization's shelter exhibit. She said that they restricted themselves to materials and supplies that refugees were likely to have available themselves.
"Our plan was to get people to come in and look at what the situation would be like if they were refugees themselves," Garcia said. "It's very simple; the refugees are struggling right now just to survive. These people just went through winter, when it's chilly and rainy, and they have so little. I couldn't imagine living like this."
Natallia Macheche, a freshman psychology major, said that the exhibit helped to drive home the realities of life as a refugee.
"Most people don't even know what's going on," Macheche said. "People don't really understand the effect that [the war] has had on typical people. This helps put it more in perspective. When you live in a nice house or a nice dorm, it's hard to imagine what it would be like to live with your entire family in one little tent."
Bernard Wilchusky is Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @facilesweateror email him at BernardW@CentralFloridaFuture.com.