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Giving beat: U ‘refugee camp’ gets role players

  • Article by: Jean Hopfensperger
  • Star Tribune
  • June 30, 2014 - 7:41 PM

The University of Minnesota is offering one of the more unusual volunteer opportunities of the year: the chance to be a player in a mock humanitarian aid crisis that will unfold in southern Minnesota.

Each year, the U offers a one-credit crash course on handling the barrage of needs at a start-up refugee camp — including coordinating emergency food, water, shelter and medical staff.

It’s designed for public health and public policy students, as well as practicing physicians, nurses and other professionals.

But to create a refugee camp, the U needs volunteers willing to spend an entire weekend outside Cannon Falls, Minn.

“They might [play] distressed refugees, local government officials, random patients,” said Sarah Kesler of the U’s Medical School. “They might be signing in people or doing logistics.”

Kesler noted that many Minnesotans are interested in humanitarian work, but that they don’t always appreciate the challenges of working in the tense and often politically charged circumstances of a refugee camp.

“This gives them tools so when they hit the ground, they can be much more effective, right off the bat,” Kesler said.

Perhaps because it fills a unique niche in Minnesota volunteerism — which is already very robust compared to other states — the “humanitarian aid simulation” attracts more volunteers than students. The event is open to nonstudents as well, Kesler said, including health care and other professionals considering refugee work.

The course is sponsored by the departments of global health, public health and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Most volunteer slots for this year’s event, running Sept. 5 to 7, are full. But there is a waiting list, and also a fresh list for next year, said Ann O’Fallon, a former state refugee health coordinator who oversees volunteers.

“This is a great learning opportunity,” she said. “You will have to somehow embody what it is like to have a refugee experience. And you’ll have a great time.”

 

Jean Hopfensperger • 612 673-4511

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