No, it’s not Americans fleeing the horrors of their crashed real estate market. It’s an installation/event by Médecins Sans Frontières that takes the form of an outdoor reconstruction of an actual refugee camp. Inside, experienced MSF staff (doctors, nurses, logisticians) guide visitors through a 40 to 60 minute interactive tour explaining what people need to do to survive in a refugee or internally displaced people (IDP) crisis.
The Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City exhibit is an outdoor reconstruction of an actual refugee camp — but one with a collection of homemade shelters representing camps all around the world. Visitors are invited to take an in-depth guided tour conducted by real MSF staff (doctors, nurses, logisticians).
During the tour, each visitor will learn some of the challenges a refugee or IDP faces in trying to access food, shelter, water and medical care. As I passed the camp on my way to work this morning, several groups of schoolchildren were being taken from shelter to shelter. And if I overheard properly, the guard at the entrance was actually soliciting “bribes” just to open the gate. (Nice touch of realism.)
Guided by MSF aid workers, visitors are asked to imagine that they are among the millions of people fleeing violence and persecution in, for example, Somalia, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Sudan.
The exhibit is made up of materials used by MSF in its emergency medical work around the world, including emergency refugee housing, a food distribution tent, water pump, health clinic, vaccination tent, therapeutic feeding center, and a cholera treatment center. It addresses questions such as:
* Will I be safe?
* What will I eat?
* How do I find water?
* Can I get medical care?
* Where will I live?
The Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City concept launched in France in 1995, and has toured Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America. The Ottawa installation was particularly striking, as the Canadian capital in modern times has been so geographically (though not culturally) isolated from displaced people.
They got my attention. And they were certainly gathering crowds on this grey spring morning.
Here’s the schedule of its 4-city Canadian tour:
Ottawa: Confederation Park, May 13-16, 2010
Montréal: Parc Jeanne-Mance, May 20-23, 2010
Toronto: Christie Pits, May 27-30, 2010
Waterloo: Waterloo Public Square, June 3-6, 2010