Conflict Resolution Youth Summit: Advancing Humanitarian Awareness with High School Students, George Mason University, 7/16/19

Lena Choudhary debriefing role players
Aid groups interviewing refugees

For the 3rd year the Forage Center for Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Education participated in the Conflict Resolution Youth Summit at George Mason University (GMU) in Fairfax, VA. It is a one-week summer day program held for rising 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students interested in exploring some of today’s toughest problems through the lens of conflict analysis and resolution.  The sponsor is the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at GMU.

A commitment to youth education is at the core of Forage Center work. As we have done in previous years, we engaged students in the “People in Flight” simulation. It is designed to sensitize students to the conditions of refugees (and other forced migrants). During the simulation, half of the students acted as aid workers who are charged with interviewing refugees recently arriving from Syria to Italy by boat. The aid groups are divided into four subject areas: heath, education, travel, and housing. The task of the workers is to elicit from the refugees (the other half of the class) information about their circumstances for purposes of placement and immediate service. The other students were divided into four “family” groups: two traditional families (father, mother, etc.), one family of a single mother with two daughters, and group of young boys traveling together.

I worked on this with Lena Choudhary, who is an associate professor of nursing at Montgomery College and a program specialist with the Forage Center. She met with the aid workers preparing them for the interviews. This involved getting them to think about what types of questions to ask, who should ask them (for instance, should only women ask women questions), how to recognize trauma and other forms of dissonant responses by the refugees, and how to organize their teams. I worked with the refugees, assigning them roles, which were very specific (each had a profile, name, and in some cases a prop and specific dress), and having them consider how an individual might react upon arriving in a new country after having spent time in the open waters.

A refugee with her child looking for assistance

Before the simulation started, I spent time sharing with students basic concepts of migration including the difference between refugees, internally displaced persons, and asylum seekers. I talked about the current crisis and numbers of persons displaced worldwide and it’s overall impact.

After the simulation, Lena debriefed with the students about their experiences. Some students shared how they developed a level of empathy and understanding for refugees and workers during the exercise. Others came to appreciate their current situation, living in the U.S. A few even shared an interest in pursuing careers in humanitarian work.

Working with youth in this way raises awareness not only of humanitarian issues, but more over, international issues and responding to global crises. If you are interested in working with the Forage Center on issues of this kind or developing a program for youth, please contact us.


Published by David J. Smith

I am a career coach, consultant, and head of a not for profit - the Forage Center - that offers humanitarian education training. I also teach at George Mason University and Drexel University. A one time lawyer, I spent many years teaching in a community college where I was a Fulbright U.S. Scholar teaching in Estonia. I'm the author of Peace Jobs: A Student's Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (IAP 2016). I've been married to my best friend for over 31 years and we have two well adjusted adult children who teach me something new everyday. I live in Rockville, Maryland.

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