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Loyola Academy students participated in an eye-opening refugee camp simulation.
"As a Catholic school, it is imperative that we be aware of the dignity that is stripped away from millions of people because of war and violence."
~Jeff Sullivan, SJ
Loyola Academy Students Highlight Refugees During Solidarity Week

May 8, 2017 — What would it be like to live in a refugee camp? To abandon one's home and belongings in the face of war or conflict?

Roughly 650 juniors in theology and Ignatian Service Learning classes at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Illinois, addressed these questions during Solidarity Week. Beginning the Friday before Holy Week and ending the Wednesday before Easter Sunday, students focused on the struggles of refugees and immigrants based on Pope Francis' call to welcome the poor and marginalized into our communities. With the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reporting that more than 65 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide, the theme was especially relevant.

"The narrative of refugees and immigrants is deeply ingrained in our salvation history and in line with the Society of Jesus' call to social justice," said Jeff Sullivan, SJ, a Jesuit regent, campus minister, and Arrupe Service Program coordinator at Loyola Academy. "My hope is that students were able to see that there is a real crisis in the world, where people are struggling for the basic needs of food, shelter, and safety."


Loyola Academy students speak with Metasabia Rigby (center), a former refugee from Ethiopia who traveled to the U.S. by way of Turkey and Croatia.

Solidarity Week events included a panel on art as social protest and talks by various guest speakers, including Beth Knobbe, an author and relationship manager at Catholic Relief Services, and Metasabia Rigby and Mustafa Altaie, two former refugees who now work with Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a Chicago organization, which challenges U.S. economic and military warfare in the Middle East. Altaie, who fled Iraq with his family after being kidnapped and tortured, is now a high school student in the United States.

"It really surprised me that Mustafa was in our grade and has gone through so much," said Brian Vance, a Loyola Academy senior who helped coordinate Solidarity Week. "His goals are so inspiring, and his story is something that will stick with me."


Mustafa Altaie, a high school student and former refugee from Iraq, spoke to Loyola Academy students during Solidarity Week.

One of the most impactful aspects of the week was a refugee camp simulation, which gave students a small sense of what refugees often experience. Approximately 150 student volunteers and 30 faculty members led participants through re-creations of food, water, and medical tents, a documentation station, educational exercises, and a detention center. Theology teachers gave each junior a unique ID card, which assigned them a temporary persona with the real story of a refugee who had been through Jesuit Refugee Service programs.

"Afterward, we asked students to pray for the person whose story they enacted," said Sullivan. "We often generalize and think of all refugees as poor or uneducated. But they are just like us. Many had jobs, and then war or conflict happened, and they had to leave their homes right away — without belongings, without proper documentation."


The refugee camp simulation helped students to better understand what many refugees experience.

The simulation taught students about the harsh realities of detainment, cramped living spaces, lack of access to water and education, limited nutrition, and inadequate healthcare. Additionally, language students spoke in foreign dialects to increase confusion and heighten awareness of another challenge refugees face.

"Our simulation was just a little taste of what life is like for a refugee," said Vance. "The pictures that we saw in the presentation really opened up my mind to what it is actually like as a refugee. The houses that they have are a lot less nice than the shelters that I worked on in the gym during the simulation."


Each participating Loyola Academy student received an ID card with the real story of a refugee. 
Loyola Academy students are actively involved in supporting the refugee community in the Chicago area. Ignatian Service Learning classes and the Arrupe Service Learning program sends 50 to 60 volunteers to Refugee One, Madonna Mission, and Catholic Charities each week, where students work directly with refugee families. Loyola's Gonzaga Drive, the Freshman Day of Service, and the Parent/Student Day of Service have also all benefited organizations that support refugee resettlement in the community. In addition, Loyola Academy sponsors a refugee family from Eritrea by donating household supplies and helping with English language acquisition.

"As a Catholic school, it is imperative that we be aware of the dignity that is stripped away from millions of people because of war and violence," said Sullivan. "Just like Jesus, we should respond to the needs of others when they are being persecuted or harmed. I want students to see the human dignity of all persons ... and not statistics or preconceived ideas about refugees and immigrants."

[Source: Midwest Jesuits/Loyola Academy, Jesuit Schools Network, UNHCR]





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