Mock refugee camp heightens social justice awareness

This spring, before the pressure of finals took over, a group of students experienced a much different pressure—they became homeless. Trinity Western University's newly established International Social Justice Club (ISJC) created a three-day mock refugee camp on campus.

Students lived on a diet of rice and bananas—more food than most real refugees receive—while sleeping outdoors in makeshift shelters. “It felt sort of like camping until we went to bed,” commented one student. “Then it was just freezing. So that made it uncomfortable, especially since we were in very tight quarters.”

But the project was about more than experiencing a few days of discomfort. During the day, students on the site used a variety of educational and interactive tools to acquaint visitors—fellow students, staff and faculty—with the realities of refugee life.

“The camp was really in your face,” says Carmel Gregory, a third year International Studies major, who took part in the camp in order to help raise awareness about the issue. “It's hard to ignore it when you're walking by, so I thought it would be a good way to really confront people with it.”

On the last day, the social justice club held an open-air market with live music, raising funds to support relief work in Sudan as well as Ethiopian student groups in Bahir Dar.

Gypsi Fellows, president and founder of TWU's International Social Justice Club, was the instigator behind fundraising for the Ethiopian groups. In February she travelled to Ethiopia to meet with student groups at Bahir Dar University that were reaching out to the city's homeless children. With approximately 10,000 “street kids,” youth homelessness is one of the Bahir Dar's most prevalent crises.

Three years ago, one of the student groups, called R-DL, adopted 10 street children. Since then, one of the children has graduated high school, enrolled in university, and become a member of R-DL himself, now helping those in the position that he once endured.

In support of their work, Fellows pledged that the Trinity Western social justice club would match R-DL's fundraising efforts and would help with any other financial needs that might arise. The TWU club has also partnered with two other Ethiopian student groups in similar ways, offering financial, editorial, emotional and mental support.

Before raising funds through the open market, the TWU club had already met their goal of raising $1,500 through their sales of Valentine's Day candy-grams. This money allowed the club to purchase the freedom of one victim of human trafficking.

Last Updated: 2007-10-11
Author: Erin Mussolum