Displaced peoples found their home at Hart House Circle on Friday. Medecins sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders U of T set up a mock refugee camp to raise awareness about the living conditions of the 42 million refugees and internally displaces persons around the world.
“We’re trying to inspire students to get involved and take on bigger issues,” said Jennifer Siu, executive director of Friends of MSF U of T. “A lot of people get consumed in their own world. It’s a way to learn…it gives you a better perspective.”
The setup included a registration tent, nutrition tent, latrine, water purification system, medical tent, and a two-by-six foot model tent.
The medical tent detailed the main diseases found in the camps, with volunteers demonstrating intubation on a dummy, as well as how to suture. The nutrition tent focused on malnourishment. Volunteers contrasted what a Canadian could eat in a day with the small packages of “plumpy” nuts, oral rehydration salts, and therapeutic milk that refugees would have access to. The nuts, which taste like thick peanut butter, were available to sample.
The water-purification system involved water moving through coal to be filtered and cleaned as much as possible.
MSF is a humanitarian aid NGO that was set up in 1971. It provides healthcare and medical training to countries affected by natural disasters, wars, or endemic diseases. They focus on areas with little or no medical infrastructure.
Nancy Graham, one of the speakers at the event, returned recently from working in Internally Displaced Persons camps in the north of Sri Lanka. She described a regular day in a camp. People will usually line up to use the latrine in the morning. Girls and young women will go out to fetch water, and young girls will line up with their ration cards to get food for their families.
“When people live in refugee camps [for long durations] you start seeing the incredible resilience of people to adapt to their circumstances,” Graham said. She referenced the development of petty trade, dance, art, and small kitchen gardens.
Saerom Youn, Friends of MSF U of T’s communications director, says she thinks people can sometimes be “stuck in their own clam.” She got involved with the club after watching James Orbinski’s Triage. “His rage for the indifference the Western countries showed touched me…I felt ashamed.”
Raghu Venugopal, a Toronto-based emergency physician, has worked in the field in Burundi, Tanzania, the Balkans, and the West Bank. Although MSF is a neutral organization, he says there are situations where he places himself as a doctor first, and is not afraid to question the set rules. “The social movement is about resistance…resisting the fact that people live in indignity and suffering.”
Safa Shahkhalili, a second year Anthropology student, says she is appreciative of events slike this because they help to inform people who cannot go out into the field.
The event ended with an overnight camp-out, visited by Leo Johnson. Johnson, currently in his fourth year at McMaster, was a refugee who fled Liberia during the civil war. The camp-out included films, discussions and activities to learn more about the lives of displaced people. Each member was encouraged to raise $25 through a pledge form. The goal was $3000.