What’s it like to be a refugee?

This September 9-11, the Red Cross will be taking part in a humanitarian crisis simulation put on by the University of Minnesota. The goal of the weekend event is for participants to gain an understanding of the realities and difficulties facing humanitarian aid professionals and the people they serve. Volunteers, role-playing as refugees, doctors, United Nations Peacekeepers, and others, will transform a boy-scout camp in Cannon Falls, Minnesota into the scene of an international humanitarian crisis. Participants will encounter displaced refugees, outbreaks of disease, roving militias, and many multidisciplinary problems typical of humanitarian catastrophes.

University of Minnesota humanitarian crisis simulation course (Photo credit: UMN)
University of Minnesota humanitarian crisis simulation course (Photo credit: UMN)

Pj Doyle, a longtime Red Cross volunteer for the Minnesota Region, explains how the Red Cross’s involvement in the simulation helps the larger community: “As stewards of the Geneva Conventions, each national society is charged with disseminating information on International Humanitarian Law to citizens. This humanitarian simulation provides hands-on means for our chapter of the American Red Cross to fulfill this role.” Volunteers from the Minnesota Red Cross region will be role-playing as delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross. During the simulation they will work on registering refugee role-players.

The simulation started in 2011 as a collaborative project co led by faculty in the Schools of Medicine and Public Affairs. Since then it has expanded to include the involvement of several different schools at the University of Minnesota and various NGOs, as well as the Minnesota National Guard. During the simulation, participants first attend didactic sessions that cover issues common to humanitarian catastrophes. Participants are then placed in multidisciplinary groups and act as emergency response teams. Throughout the weekend, these teams will assess various “camps” and “villages” as they assess problems such as malnutrition, security, and human rights violations. After their assessment, each team will develop a proposal for an intervention and present their solution to a board.

University of Minnesota humanitarian crisis simulation, 2015 (Photo credit: UMN)
University of Minnesota humanitarian crisis simulation, 2015 (Photo credit: UMN)

The course is a valuable learning experience for anyone who is interested in or currently pursuing a career in humanitarian aid work, as well as professionals currently working with former refugees. It is offered for a fee to adult participants from the community, and as a one credit graduate elective at the University of Minnesota. While the course places an emphasis on the public health aspects of humanitarian relief, the simulation provides an opportunity for anyone to develop and shape skills necessary for success in all areas of humanitarian work.

Photo credit: UMN
Photo credit: UMN

Both participants and volunteers are still needed and welcome for the simulation. Those interested in participating as a student or volunteering can learn more by emailing umnsim@umn.edu. To see more photos from the 2015 humanitarian simulation, click here.

Story by Adam Holte, American Red Cross Minnesota Region, International Services Intern

Gophers Bleed Maroon & Gold for the Red Cross

Katie Kranz congratulates Chuck Seymour on making his first blood donation. Both are University of Minnesota seniors and Homecoming Court Members. Photo credit: Megan Barnes/American Red Cross

The Golden Gophers turned out in spades for the Ninth Annual American Red Cross Homecoming Blood Drive at the University of Minnesota. Everyone—students, professors, and alumni came together to save lives.

For Chuck Seymour, a senior and Homecoming King Candidate, it was his first time donating blood (GO CHUCK!). With a lot of reluctance and slight fear of donating and needles, Chuck met Geoff Kaufmann, CEO of the American Red Cross North Central Blood Services Region, who led him through the entire donation process (GO GEOFF!).

Geoff explained that one whole blood donation typically can help save three lives. And with an average of 22-25 blood drives in Minnesota each day, this generates vital help to those who need the gift of life. “It’s so great that this generation is willing to donate,” said Geoff. “The older generation felt a dedication to supplying blood and a lot of these people aren’t able to anymore due to chronic diseases. So, it’s a great thing to see this generation step up and donate their time and blood. The University of Minnesota is a huge support to the American Red Cross and it’s always good to be here.”

To help ease fears, friendly student volunteers (GO GOPHERS!) wearing maroon & gold Legendary U Homecoming t-shirts created an inviting room filled with snacks and festive music for the donors. Gopher student volunteers helped care for people post donation by monitoring how they felt and offering juice, water and snacks. Their volunteer support showed that this generation of students is indeed Legendary.

Geoff Kaufmann comforts Kirby Schmidt while he donates blood during the University of Minnesota Legendary U blood drive with the American Red Cross. Photo credit: Megan Barnes/American Red Cross

Kirby Schmidt, another senior and Homecoming King Candidate, was proud to show his Gopher Pride by donating his 9th time (GO KIRBY!). He wants future University donors to know that it’s easy and anyone can do it. “I recommend eating a big bowl of Raisin Bran and drinking 3-4 glasses of water when starting your day of the donation.”

In all, approximately 125 volunteers and 220 potential donors participated, making this drive a major contributor and partner to this cause. This was done by including pre-registration for those on a tight schedule or quick registration for those who just happened to walk by and felt compelled to donate.

Click here to find a blood drive in your area.

M! I! N! N! E! S! O! T! A! MINNESOTA! MINNESOTA! YAAAAAY GOPHERS!

Story and photos by Megan Barnes/American Red Cross