Earlier this week, a group of students at Birmingham-Southern College set out from their dorms with tents, sleeping bags, musical instruments and whatever else they could carry. They gathered together on the academic quad, set up a camp and began asking passing students, professors and administrators for food.
"We're depending on other people for everything other than what we brought in one trip. That doesn't seem like a big deal, but it takes away your dignity," said Marc Parker, a junior philosophy major from Thorsby, Ala.
Parker and 15 other BSC students are participating in an event called "Refugee Live for Free," organized by a campus cultural awareness organization called the Middle Eastern/Central Asian Alliance. The students are living on the quad for a week to raise awareness of the plight of refugees around the world. They hope that relying on other students for food and other supplies will raise awareness on campus of what refugees around the world must endure.
Refugees are people fleeing persecution based on religion, ethnicity or other traits. The United Nations estimates that at the end of 2006, there were 9.9 million refugees and 12.8 million internally displaced persons (refugees who haven't left their home country). The students participating in Refugee Live for Free represent refugees from many different countries, including Burma, Tibet, Sudan, and Iraq.
"On the first day I told everybody that this is really what everyone makes it to be. Everyone has their own concerns. Mine are for Palestinian refugees," said Parker, who founded MECAA in 2007.
To add to the realism of their event, the BSC students vowed not to use motor vehicles, money or electricity for a week. Cell phones are allowed, but they can't be recharged.
Despite these restrictions, things weren't all bad in BSC's refugee camp. In between classes, students entertained themselves and each other with guitars, harmonicas and even a didgeridoo.
Kirk Hooten, a senior from Vestavia Hills, said that so far they had received plenty of food. "Dr. Trench even brought us some candy," said Hooten, referring to psychology professor Lynne Trench. Nevertheless, some students were bracing for any future decline in food supplies - one had constructed a questionable squirrel trap from a small charcoal grill, and another had painted a sign that said "Will sing a song of your choice for food."
"We cannot actually simulate what refugees actually go through," Parker admitted. "We're going back to normal middle class life after this, and this isn't that far from normal middle-class life anyway. We have really nice tents and we're eating Pop-tarts.
"We're doing what we can. There aren't really a lot of options as far as being able to do something," Parker said. "But at least we can build a community of compassion, of thoughtfulness. Hopefully people that aren't sleeping outside with us will have concern for people that are out of sight and usually out of mind."