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Young Kiwis become refugees


For immediate release

17 October 2011

Young Kiwis become refugees

Finding their families at night while bombs drop around them, having to quickly choose which belongings to take before setting off on an endless trek, and navigating border crossings with hostile guards; New Zealand's most generous young leaders today found out what the beginning of the ordeal is like for hundreds of thousands of refugees around the world.

The World Vision and Sanitarium Scholarship Week kicked off in Auckland today with an in-depth simulation experience based on the plight of refugees currently fleeing fighting in the south of Sudan.

The simulation was based on information from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and World Vision field staff, including Briony Stevens, a nutrition specialist, who has just returned from helping to set up health programmes at the camps for these refugees in neighbouring Ethiopia.

"Refugees, the majority of whom are women and children, have reported fleeing conflict in Sudan by travelling for up to 25 days, often surviving on nothing but wild foods and generosity" explained Briony.

"I think it is important for kiwis to partake in a simulation like this to get a deeper understanding of what it feels like to be a refugee, to experience the absolute vulnerability and the realisation that there is no one there to help."

According to the secondary school students the activity was a great learning experience.

"I don't think that before this I really understood the confusion, the mental side. It had never registered that there would be language barriers filling in forms," said Shelby Taylor of Christchurch Girls High.

"I felt confusion, had no idea what would happen next, and felt fear. Refugees feel the same but a million times worse," said Amber Young of St Oran's College in Wellington.

Some words that were used to describe how they felt were: fearful, anxious, unsure, confused, powerless, pressured, frustrated; all feelings commonly reported by refugees.

Over the rest of the week students will gain an understanding of development work, leadership and multiculturalism through different activities.

Highlights include completing a community mapping exercise in an Auckland suburb to identify needs, hearing from leading New Zealand speakers, meeting World Vision celebrity ambassadors Ido Drent (Shortland Street) and Drew Neemia (TV4's Drew and Shannon Live) - who got to view World Visions work first-hand in East Timor earlier this year.

ENDS

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