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Displace Me: Teens can experience a mock refugee camp in Genoa

GENOA — For one night teenagers will get to experience something that affects more than 20 million people around the world: displacement.

Millions of people lose their homes or flee their countries because of persecution, bloody conflicts or natural disasters. Churches in Genoa, Kingston and Kirkland teamed up to give teenagers a taste of what it's like to be those people.

On Aug. 11, a mock refugee camp will be held in the parking lot of 312 Eureka St. in Genoa. The teenagers who attend can expect a fun and meaningful night, said Mollie Hughes, event coordinator for Displace Me.

"We live in a little fishbowl but other people don't live like we do," Hughes said.

Some of the items participants will have to bring include a cardboard box, sleeping bags, blankets and flashlights. No food or electronics will be allowed. Crackers or protein packs may be given out, but participants shouldn't expect to eat pizza or enjoy luxuries they would normally have, Hughes said.

The camp is expected to be open from 6 p.m. until 7 a.m. During that time activities will be held to further help participants learn what it is like to live in desperation and deprivation. Some of the activities will be surprises, but one activity will show what it's like to escape a country.

"It will simulate what it would be like to cross over a border and get out of a country," Hughes said.

The activities are meant to inspire team building and leadership, said Kris Aves, another coordinator of the event. Teenagers will have to hunt for water or make their way around the camp through climbing, she said.

"These are things you would not normally encounter," Aves said.

Nurses and adult supervisors will be on staff to ensure safety, Aves said. She said she also hopes one or two real-life refugees will attend to share their experiences.

The idea for the program came from a friend whose husband specializes in immigration ministry, Aves said. She had been thinking about the idea for several years until she decided to partner up with Hughes and several others to realize it. She knew she wanted to get local churches involved and make it specifically for teenagers.

"I wanted something that was team-building and leadership oriented," Aves said. "And something that allows [teenagers] to look outside their backyard."

In many ways, the event was largely planned by teenagers, Hughes said. While the people involved reached out to youth directors from local churches, they in turn reached out to teenagers and got them involved in creating Displace Me.

"It's kind of custom-designed by the teens themselves," Hughes said.

Teenagers became the target audience because the coordinators thought they would understand the experience better than other groups, Hughes said. The U.S. is a country with many advantages and hopefully teenagers will understand why many refugees and displaced people come here, she said.

"That is how America was founded," Hughes said. "... people coming here to make a better life."

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