- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

GREELEY, Colo. (AP) - Nearly 40 people from around Weld County experienced the loss of family, limbs and property one recent morning.

The experience was part of “A Walk in Their Shoes,” a refugee experience simulation hosted by United Way of Weld County at the Greeley-Evans School District 6 administrative building.

The simulation offered employees of the Greeley Transitional House, Morgan County Family Center, University of Northern Colorado and others the chance to experience the frustrations of refugee life in the roles of families assigned to them.

Some became journalists, tea plantation owners, mechanics, bus drivers and doctors cast out of their village after a bombing left them with nothing but the barest essentials.

“The feeling of being separated from your loved ones was paralyzing,” said Abby Smith, a case manager at the Greeley Transitional House and the girls’ head coach of Soccer Without Borders.

Simulated families were blindfolded and separated before being asked to find each other and rush to get to the refugee camp stations. After making it to the camps, participants were given forms to fill out with unknown symbols to simulate the paperwork refugees receive.

“I felt a loss of dignity when we were in the camp and were trying to gather the resources to move forward,” participant Dee Daniels Scriven said.

The simulation pushed the families to bribe, beg, steal and sneak their way across the border in order to keep their families intact and get the injured to safety.

The simulation facilitators crumbled, tore and threw the papers that the families presented to them while yelling in languages that they didn’t understand at the border station. In many cases, the families were broken up as children and the injured were separated from their caregivers.

“You don’t know when to push it or when to leave it be,” Daniels Scriven said.

After everyone made it across the border, some families were left intact while others had lost or adopted members in the process. The groups were then told to go sit in the camps again and await further instruction.

“For many refugees, the time spent in the camps can be upward of 20 or 30 years,” said Colorado Department of Human Services integration program supervisor Joe Wismann-Horther.

To simulate the scarcity of resources in the camps, families were given sheets of paper with available essentials to select from. However, after a few minutes of selection, they were told that only a few of the forms would be taken into consideration.

A member of each group rushed to the simulation representative, most of which were immediately turned away without having their requests heard.

Soon after, the staff announced that the supply closet had been bombed and that the families would only receive one bottle of water each without food.

“It was difficult to know when to use the resources you had,” United Way President and CEO Jeannine Truswell said.

The simulation stopped at the height of the stress when the families began to worry how they would feed everyone in their group. Stopping at this point gave people more fuel to talk about the feelings during the debriefing, simulation narrator Marte Samuelstuen said.

When they were brought back together, the participants reflected on how the situation made them feel and discussed the reality of the refugees in the Greeley community.

“I think I really realized how strong and resilient the refugees are,” Daniels Scriven said.

For many families, the process of being resettled into countries like the United States also means leaving behind family members and working to bring them over later, said Asad Abdi, the founder and co-executive director of the Global Refugee Center.

Following the simulation, the group also discussed the ways that the community perceives the refugees and how they could work to make their role in the Greeley community easier.

“We have to be really careful that when we’re looking at the refugees, we’re looking at them as individuals,” Wismann-Horther said.


Information from: The Tribune of Greeley, Co, https://greeleytribune.com

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