You may know a bit about the global refugee crisis. Perhaps you’ve read the headlines and seen the heartbreaking images associated with the Syrian refugee crisis. And now, thanks to a new free exhibition by Doctors Without Borders called Forced From Home, you can see firsthand what it’s like to take the journey of a refugee or internally displaced person.
Forced From Home is an interactive exhibition presented by the medical aid non-profit Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to raise public awareness about the experiences of the world’s more than 65 million refugees and internally displaced people. Its goal is to encourage sympathy for the plight of so many around the world who must now re-establish themselves in unfamiliar territories thousands of miles from home after escaping horrific conditions and suffering. But beyond encouraging sympathy, another purpose of the exhibit is to humanize the refugees themselves.
Stories about refugees are usually “about numbers — numbers of refugees, numbers of death,” says Emilie Lamartina, a nurse who has volunteered with Doctors Without Borders, or MSF, in France and South Sudan and is a guide at the exhibit. “But beyond each number, you have life. You have someone.”
“These people are just like you and I,” said Vito Castelgrande, project coordinator for the exhibit. “We hope the primary takeaway is just to humanize them. We talk about millions and millions of people displaced, but they are millions and millions of individuals, with names and stories.”
“People don’t leave their home unless they absolutely have no other choice,” said Jason Cone, executive director of Doctors Without Borders in the U.S. “It’s really an attempt to put people in the shoes of these [refugees] — what would you do if you only had a matter of moments to decide what you could take with you?”
In part one of the Forced From Home tour, attendants are given identification cards from one of five countries – Afghanistan, Burundi, Honduras, South Sudan, and Syria – and prompted to imagine the experience from the refugee’s perspective in a series of stations that illustrate the journey.
In another section, visitors board a plastic, inflatable boat — similar to the kind that a lot of the 300,000 refugees who arrived to Europe by sea used to get across the Mediterranean in 2016. The raft is only designed to seat eight, explains a tour guide, but often has to take many, many more.
With an experienced Doctors Without Borders aid worker as your guide, you’ll see, hear, and interact with images, stories, and materials gathered from refugee camps, rescue missions, and emergency medical projects around the world. The makeshift camp at the Forced From Home exhibit is a re-creation of a refugee camp, about the size of school gymnasium, with a store, a hospital, and places to sleep. Forced From Home started its run in New York last month, hosting exhibits in Battery Park and Queens before making its way to the National Mall in D.C. from October 1–9. The exhibit will visit Boston from Oct 15–23 and is open daily from 9 a.m.–5 p.m.
Forced From Home is free, family friendly, fully accessible, and open to the public. School trips are welcomed and encouraged. Walk up any time between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or pre-register to ensure your entry at a designated time. Visit www.forcedfromhome.com to learn more.