Today, Memory Mall transformed from a green lawn, the site of many recreational activities, to a site of struggle.
In a simulated refugee camp, students learned what it is like to be a refugee and how refugees survive, rather than thrive.
The first-time event, hosted by the UCF School of Social Work, the Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement of Central Florida and the Hope Community Center, Apopka, took place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday.
The first step in the process was receiving a story card, which contained the displacement story of a real refugee, their name, age and country of origin.
Students were greeted by Lyanne Soto, a junior social work major, as well as Nicole Decarufel, a case manager for Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement of Central Florida.
“You are a refugee,” said Soto, as she handed a student his refugee story. He was no longer a student at UCF, but a father from Syria on the run in the hopes of finding a safe shelter to protect his children from persecution.
The simulation was tailored to be as accurate as the refugee camps that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees uses to care for refugees. Participants were shown the same amount of supplies, tools and food that UNHCR camps give their refugees.
Mary Mann, an instructor of social work at UCF, put together the event with Danny Franco, a refugee from Mexico, and A.J. Brion, one of Mann’s students from her Social Work with Immigrants and Refugees class.
Mann said that the overall goal of the event was to dispel myths about refugees.
“There’s 59 million people in the world who are displaced,” Mann said. “Yet, there’s 14 million of those people who are refugees because under UNHCR, they meet the criteria.”
This means that the 45 million people who do meet the UNHCR criteria remain displaced but do not receive outside help.
The first tent showed students what their shelter at the camp would be — they were shown one tarp and one rope.
One student, Patrick Joiner, a junior engineering major, worked for over 30 minutes trying to build a tent.
Joiner said he now has a different perspective on refugees.
“They’re people and they deserve a chance,” said Joiner. “I sympathize with them more now.”
The second tent was a food station. On the table were several small, plastic bags containing rice, beans, sugar and other basic nutrients required for survival that families are given to share.
According to the United States Geological Services, the average person uses 80 gallons to 100 gallons of water every day. Families at refugee camps are given one gallon for the whole day, which they have to use for cooking, bathing and food.
The third tent contained the simulation clinic, which consisted of a cot and some very basic medical supplies.
After visiting this tent, students were able to hear first-hand stories from actual refugees and learn about Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement of Central Florida and Hope Community Center, Apopka.
Danny Franco, 23, a refugee from Mexico, received help from the Hope Community Center, which he said is now his second home.
Even after being a refugee and finally coming to America, his struggle was not over.
He endured the raiding of his home by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, as well as watching his stepfather get deported, which left Franco with the responsibility of taking care of his mother and siblings.
“I ain’t going nowhere ‘cause I feel in my heart that I’m American,” said an emotional Franco while holding up his identification card, which he got when he was a junior in high school.
“It has the American flag on it,” said Franco. “It meant the world that I felt that I was being accepted in the country that I love.”
Mann said that she hopes next year’s refugee simulation will have a campout, which will really immerse students in the process.
“Next year we want this to be bigger, said Mann. “We want it to be a couple days long.”
Alexis Vilaboy is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.