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Orlando Sentinel Reports on Refugee Camp Simulation

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UCF Emphathizes with Refugees During Campus Event

By Gabrielle Russon, Orlando Sentinel
(Photo by Gabrielle Russon. For photos by Abi Bell, visit

In the hot midday sun, students pretended they were on a refugee camp under blue tents.

A few feet away was a Starbucks and the towering American flag pole, reminders this was a grassy field in the heart of the University of Central Florida campus.

UCF social-work instructor Mary Mann wanted the students to realize what it was like to be a refugee in an effort to destroy stereotypes and create more awareness.  For several hours Wednesday, passers-by trickled over to staged refugee simulation under the tents on Memory Mall, where they could see the individual food rations or what it was like to sleep on the ground.

"It makes it real," Mann said.

The timing was intentional.

There was a presidential election going on with some politicians speaking out against refugees or stories about the refugee crisis appearing on the news.

Under one tent, Edelna Saint Phorin, a social-work student, displayed plastic bags filled with the United Nations' rations of food for refugees. A tablespoon of sugar, a teaspoon of salt, 14 ounces of rice. A gallon of water for cooking and drinking and washing dishes and hygiene, Saint Phorin explained.

"Per person?" asked Kemi Adeagbo, 21, a UCF math student from West Palm Beach as she widened her eyes. "Per day?"

The concept about the hands-on refugee exercise emerged out of Mann's social-work class last year.

Mann asked her students to write a list of the things they would grab if they only had five minutes before they fled their homes. Some wrote food or water. Most forgot about things such as their identification in their rush.

The students interviewed real people who escaped from their homes in Sudan and other countries. They went on a field trip to Catholic Charities of Central Florida, which helps refugees.

"It was eye-opening," said Saint Phorin, 33, of Orlando, who took the class.

Saint Phorin said she didn't understand the difference between immigrants and refugees, who were people who were forced to leave their home countries because of war or other conflicts.

"They're not put in this situation on purpose," said her classmate A.J. Brion, 24, who grew up in Hawaii. "It dawned on me and helped me realize this is something people should be worrying about."

Now their teacher wanted the lessons they learned in their class to be on display for the rest of the campus. Saint Phorin and Brion were among those who volunteered to help.

In one area, Patrick Joiner set down his skateboard and was determined to set up his own shelter using twin tarps and some rope.

"I don't think he can't do it," social-work student Christine Bealey said quietly, knowing full well there were no poles included in the supplies.

But Joiner was confident.

"I'm an engineer," the student said as he went to work, eventually setting up the tent. "They make the impossible possible."

Much of the time, Joiner was busy with his mechanical engineering studies and living on campus.

When it comes to the refugee crisis, "I know it's something that's out there, but it doesn't affect my daily life. I don't normally have time to think about it," he said.

For a few minutes Wednesday, he said he acknowledged the refugees' plight and the organizations that help them.

Plus, he developed a new appreciation for constructing tents: "That's for sure," he said.


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