Can you imagine a life as a refugee being forced to move around constantly due to various social injustices in the world? According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are 65.6 million people who are forcibly displaced worldwide, and that breaks down to 28,300 people a day being forced to flee from their homes because of conflict and/or persecution. Of that 65.6 million, 22.5 million people are refugees. Over half of the refugees come from three countries alone, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Syria.
An Alvernia University student is offering Berks County an opportunity to experience life as a refugee through an interactive simulation where faculty and students will be invited to assume the identity of a refugee to gain insight into their lives around the world. The simulation will be held on Friday, November 17 from 1-3 pm on the Quad, or in the Student Center, at Alvernia University where participants will travel through the various stations that simulate the refugee experience and provide insight into the hardships, the frustrations, and often the pain that refugees endure.
This experience is made possible by Michael and Susan Fromm.The Fromm’s are active Berks County community members. Owners of Fromm Electric Supply, which is one of the leading electrical supply companies in the Mid-Atlantic Market, as well as being involved in various other community organizations, such as SAFE Berks. The Fromm Interfaith Scholarship began in 2013, and they have given the scholarship to a rising Junior or Senior for the past five years. Alvernia University students are encouraged to apply by proposing a project that will create dialogue on campus around a specific issue. When asked why they chose to create this specific scholarship opportunity for Alvernia University Students, Michael and Susan Fromm agreed and said, “We created the Fromm Interfaith Scholarship to reinforce the good work that is already being done at Alvernia to encourage meaningful dialog among students from different religious and ethnic backgrounds.” As a community we strive to embody the values of humility, service, contemplation, peacemaking, and collegiality.
This year’s selected project, To Be a Refugee, is a two part project that incorporates all of these values as the participants are encouraged to journey in solidarity with our refugee brothers and sisters on November 17, and then, in January, participants are encouraged to come and hear the stories of several refugees as a part of To Be a Refugee: Journey Story. Mr. and Mrs. Fromm said, “[The student’s] project was selected this year because it seeks to bring attention, through an interactive experience, to the humanitarian plight of people who are forced to flee their homes to escape religious or ethnic oppression. By engaging the entire Alvernia community, ‘To Be a Refugee’ exemplifies the scholarship’s mission to promote the common values of respect, empathy and altruism that are shared by all religions.” To Be a Refugee helps promote self-reflection of those who experience the simulation; as well as, it encourages a sense of responsibility to others. It also encourages the idea of being ethical leaders with moral courage by shining a light on one of many of the injustices in our world today by providing the opportunity to participate in advocating for refugees at the end of the simulation experience.
The goal of To Be a Refugee is to educate the people of Berks County about issues that affect our local communities as well as international communities. It reveals a hidden perspective that many people have not seen by placing participants in the “shoes” of refugees. Carlos Canela, the graduate assistant in Alvernia University’s Campus Ministry who focuses on Peace and Social Justice Issues, said “I believe education is the key to freedom, and if we educate our students, they will be able to go out there and make a huge difference in the real world.” More people need to advocate for refugees, but in order to do so, the circumstances of refugees needs to be understood better. “I believe that we still have the power to make the world a better place. Let us commit ourselves to making a difference today. Learn more about the refugee crisis, talk about it, and – even more important – do something about it” said Canela. Be the change the world needs. Take the first step and come see To Be a Refugee for yourself.