Good morning, for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Sarah and I go to Radford College.
I’ve just finished a 2 week unit of work called “worn souls” which focuses on empathy, particularly for refuges and how everyone has their own story. As part of this we had the opportunity to go on a refugee overnight experience.
This is what I will talking to you about today.
But before I talk about the overnight experience, your’e probably wondering about the title: “worn soles”.
The name “worn soles” has 2 parts to it:
- The first relates to soles on your shoes which are worn because you have walked a long way;
- And the second relates to your spiritual soul which is worn due to harsh experiences in life.
The refugee overnight experience was designed to put us in the shoes of a refugee who just arrived in a foreign country.
It started early in the morning when we were put on a bus and driven to an unknown location where, as refugees, we would be processed. The only things we were allowed to bring were some clothes, tootpaste and toothbrush in a couple of garbage bags.
After we arrived at the transit area we were marched in single file to the processing centre carrying our two garbage bags containing all of our possessions.
After waiting for a long time some people started to ask questions about what we were doing next, or how long we would be there, or what the time was (we were not allowed watches). These questions were not answered.
Soon after that we were handed arrival forms for us to fill out. These forms were written in gibberish, like for example “name” was spelt N MM E (and this was the easiest one to figure out).
On the form we also had to state our reason for wanting to enter the camp and the foreign country. Mine was that my safety at Radford College was being compromised by a growing number of rouge teachers.
After we finished struggling with filling out these forms we were lined up and our forms were checked.
As a result of this checking some people were let through (like me) and others sent to the back of the line, the reason for this was unknown to everyone and seemed unfair.
When we all eventually got through this checking we were then body searched for any contraband (such as deodorant, food, plastic containers, phones and watches) and the contents of our garbage bags were tipped out onto the dirt and also searched.
After we completed all of these checks we were put into a family group. I managed to get through the whole process without any trouble, unlike one of my friends who was sent back three times.
- The first time was because she was laughing and talking to me when she was got through the first checkpoint;
- The second time was because she had a watch; and
- The third time was because there was a mix‑up with her forms.
I think her experience was a good reflection of what a real refugee would be going through, because she was sent back so many times and her access was denied so many times for no apparent or justified reason.
After everyone was eventually sorted into family groups we were then taken to our camp sites where our guide explained were the boundaries were and how to use the toilet.
We were then left the build our own bivvies which proved to be more of a challenge then first anticipated because we were not told how to do this, but just left with some of the equipment we would need (ie a couple of tarps, some string and few camping pegs).
So as you can see my bivvy at first glance looked pretty good, well we thought so, until it started to rain (then it wasn’t so good). You remember the heavy downpour a couple of weeks ago. I was outside in that.
When it rained the top section of the bivvy filled with water, which resulted in our feet and shoes being in the rain all night. At the time we didn’t realise this until we “woke up” from a sleepless night to find our shoes and socks soaked.
Before we went to bed though we had to have dinner but we were not given any food. To get food we had to sew together small scrapes of fabric to make a blanket that we would trade at the night markets for food.
Our group did pretty well in the trading and we managed to get enough couscous and vegetables to feed all of us. Cooking was a challenge, however, as we were not told how to build a fire (in the rain) or cook the food and it seemed to take around 3 hrs to do (though in reality it was probably only an hour or so). The food in any other circumstance probably would have tasted horrible, but as we were so hungry it tasted soooo good.
This defiantly affected the mood of the group, I found myself talking to people that I otherwise would have not have talked to, I think this is because in bad situations people put aside their differences to bond together and get though the problem.
The next morning we were moved to another place to eat breakfast and to do an activity that involved looking at pictures of refugees and reflecting on how they look and why the photos are powerful and meaningful.
Next we visited the SIEVX memorial which I thought the most powerful part of the experience for me. For those of you who don’t know what the SIEVX memorial is, it is a memorial for a boat that sunk just of the coast of Indonesia, it held 400 asylum seekers, 353 died.
SIEV stands for Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel and the X stands for the number of the vessel (for example SEIV 34). The dimensions of the boat were roughly 19.5 by 4 meters and, as I have mentioned it was carrying round about 400 people.
As you can see by the pictures the SIVEX memorial consists of many white poles each with their own artwork around the top. Each pole represents someone who died, the small ones for children and the tall ones for adults, (there were lots of small ones).
This made me think about all the mothers that had made the decision to put their life and the lives of their children in danger to seek refuge from danger in hope of them having a better life somewhere else.
I can’t image what it would be like to make a decision like this: to stay in my home country where me or my family may be persecuted or killed; or flee and take a dangerous voyage to a foreign country where I may not be welcome.