My name’s Jenny and I volunteer with Empathy Action as an administrator. Having sat through many staff meetings and heard all about the planning and preparations that have gone into creating our new simulation, I was excited (and a little nervous) to see what it was all about. I experienced Desperate Journeys as a participant during their launch week and co-founders Ben and Matt asked me to write about my experience…
I joined a group of 26 strangers from all different walks of life, none of us quite sure what to expect. We were welcomed by the simulation’s director, given a passport, some money and asked to remove our shoes before entering one of the seven marquee tents that housed the whole experience. From there the journey began as we were thrown into a situation where, as a group, we had to make multiple decisions for our group’s safety, under pressure and with limited information available. I won’t give any plot spoilers, but will focus instead on the two questions that were asked at the end:
‘What struck you?’ and ‘How did you feel?’
When not volunteering with Empathy Action, I work as a musician and teacher. Sound and silence are a big part of my life and would therefore naturally be a focus for me as I walked through the dark, maze-like set. I found myself making observations between the cleverly designed soundtrack that followed us and the feelings I was experiencing: joyful party music; incoming explosions; the harsh voices of soldiers as they burst in on us; pants, sobs and cries of fear from the actors; the heavy silence as our group sat in darkness on a dingy to Europe, listening to the stories of desperation from a fellow passenger; the subtle changes in music as we turned corners and faced new, improved or worsened situations. I was struck with a sense of powerlessness, swept up in a tide of sounds and people I’d just met, travelling to an unknown destination.
I felt frustrated by the lack of autonomy of group decisions, and could see parallels with the loss of freedom of choice a refugee would face. I felt loss when we heard that our host’s family home and street had been flattened, and grief too when the same family had to make the horrendous decision to separate when applying to relocate. Earlier that day I had been enjoying the first signs of spring, gardening in my quiet peaceful neighbourhood. I had exchanged texts with my sister who has chosen to spend 2 years in Australia as part of a secondment scheme. I miss her very much but know that she is safe and happy, will be returning this year, and that I can visit her without many of the bureaucratic hurdles we experienced in the simulation. These feelings were brought home further in a concluding and powerful speech from one of our volunteers, and a resettled refugee herself. Reem told us of her family’s struggle to flee her home country and resettle in the UK. They are still waiting for the remainder of her family to be granted asylum. Her story brought me to tears. I left the simulation in deep thought, humbled and very moved.
As we drew to a conclusion, we were told that there are 65.6 million people worldwide (a similar amount to the entire population of the UK) who have been forcibly displaced from their home: That’s around 1 in 100 of the world’s population. Refugees don’t start out as refugees. They are mothers, fathers, friends, colleagues, students, professionals… human beings just like us. We must engage with this world crisis and do what we can to help.
More accounts of Desperate Journeys: