Each day middle class Americans wake up in an air conditioned room, peel out of bed to eat a healthy breakfast, and get in their cars to go to work where they will be paid well above minimum wage. This fairytale of a life is something most African refugees will never experience. The abuse and trauma that many experience in Africa’s war-zones cannot be articulated, it must be experienced. This coming Wednesday, March 28, Jesuit Refugee Services American African Outreach Society (JRSAAOS) will be hosting a day where students, parents, and teachers alike can experience the destitute conditions of an African refugee camp.
Not new to helping raise awareness about Africans in need, JRAAOS has done numerous service works since last April, when the club began, including the Shiloh Reading Circle and the Refugee Soccer Tournament, but this next event will be a first for Jesuit high schools abroad. Although some colleges have offered such experiences, no other Jesuit high school has ever had a refugee camp experience on campus, and come April more high schools will follow in our footsteps. With Jesuit Dallas leading the way, there is no doubt that this day will be an eye opening experience for all the participants.
The occasion will last all day, starting at 8 AM and ending at 9 at night. During each period of the school day there will be the opportunity to live like a refugee in the Terry Center where the “camp,” as Mr. Perry calls it, will be stationed. Mr. Perry, the head of the community service section of Jesuit Dallas and the coordinator of this experience, said that he hopes the Terry Center will be like a “mock refugee experience” where students will face the challenges of “registering as a refugee, receiving the small portion of food a refugee gets each day, being medically evaluated and finding out they have a disease, along with many other hardships.” In brief, Mr. Perry thinks it will be “very realistic.”
The experience is meant to open the eyes of the Jesuit community to a different kind of life and struggle, and as such, it may be a slightly dehumanizing undertaking. Each person should experience the feeling of displacement from the mock camp, learning what it would feel like to be a refugee and having to cope with the foreign and harsh conditions.
Thankfully, even those without free periods during the day will get the opportunity to attend. Seniors will be going to the Terry Center in place of writing a reflection about their community service that Wednesday; Junior Theology classes will go to the Terry Center throughout the day; and Sophomore social studies classes and Freshman English classes will venture to the Terry center throughout their day as well. However, because it is such a special event, Mr. Perry wanted to remind the student body to “not be sick,” because, unfortunately, there will be no opportunity for a make-up.
Once the refugee camp experience culminates for Jesuit students, the Jesuit band will play in Xavier mall and guest speakers from Sudan and Jesuit’s own chapter of AAOS will talk. But instead of ending there, the camp will remain open at night for parents to visit and a subsequent buffet dinner from 7-9 will be provided.
On a final note, it seems appropriate to share the goal of the coordinator himself, Mr. Perry: “My goal is for our students to appreciate a day in the life of a refugee and to gain some insight, some academic knowledge, and also a compassionate heart, which is part of their formation as men for justice as men for others and also part of their spiritual formation process. I want them to understand the life, the challenge, and the struggle of a displaced person or family. “