Students at St Patrick’s College Sutherland

Students at St Patrick’s College Sutherland recently had the opportunity to experience something of what people from a refugee and asylum seeker background go through in the search for freedom and safety.

Year 10 students experienced an interactive simulation of the journey of refugees.

Gymea Community Aid & Information Service trained 30 youth leaders for peer-to-peer learning in the youth-led project. The school’s gymnasium was transformed into a world of leaky boats, customs officials and visa applications.

The idea behind the activity was to allow students to “walk a mile” in the shoes of a refugee and hear their stories.

“Seeing how the kids reacted was such a powerful experience for us all,” said Declan Donohue, Director of Religious Education at St Patrick’s.

“Students had the opportunity to follow an interactive course, basically walking a mile in a refugees’ shoes; everything from leaving their home country, to visa applications, to being intercepted by customs officials, to being settled in a refugee camp. This was obviously followed by discussions and debriefings.”

One student said she found the day “highly informative” and “spurred her on to want to take action in aid of refugees”.

“The refugee challenge demonstrated the lack of empathy from some parts of Australia’s society. This gave me an opportunity to realise our need as young adults to take action against such large issues in our society today,” she said.

Mikall Kallon, one of the project’s coordinators, said the innovative program was helping raise awareness of refugees and was designed to “start a conversation among young people” on how to assist them.

As a refugee who fled his native Sierra Leone more than 10 years ago, Mihkall said he was the only refugee most of the students had ever encountered.

“Very few students have ever seen a refugee before let alone spoken to one and heard first-hand of their experiences leaving their homeland,” he said.

“The Sutherland Shire has a very high rate of people born in Australia so only through programs like this do they develop empathy and an understanding of what a refugee goes through.

“Hopefully programs like this will open their eyes and their minds to those forced to flee their homes and seek asylum.”

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