FOREST, LAURA, ARI + THE MAHAMA REFUGEE CAMP
In mid-July, Forest Redlin ’17 received he opportunity to conduct research in Rwanda. Redlin, a defensive back on the Macalester Football team, went with Laura Humes ‘17 and Ari Hymoff ’17. The group focused on one question: “How can we reimagine the refugee camp experience?”
In the months leading up to the trip, these three students collaborated with others from the Mac community and the American Refugee Committee (ARC) to try to answer this question. They worked to find a way to change the way people viewed the refugee experience, performing many hours of research which culminated in a trip to the Mahama Refugee camp in Rwanda.
Once on the ground the three students set off to the hilly area of the Mahama refugee camp. The camp houses 30,000 refugees, as well as countless banana trees and avocado plants. The team immediately got to work using resources from the ARC to help create a video-voice project and to organize focus groups composed of the refugees in the camp.
One of the immediate challenges the group faced was getting over the language barrier that divided them from many of the residents of the camp. “One of the biggest adjustments for me was getting used to talking through a translator,” Redlin said. “I had trouble at first effectively conveying what I wanted to say.”
However, he was able to overcome these difficulties by adapting to his new situation, and ended up creating lasting relationships with the people he met.
One of the first things that struck the group were the struggles that people went through just to get things that are easily accessible in the United States. Residents had to walk miles just to get clean water and lived in incredibly tough conditions. Despite the adversity, the visiting researchers were struck by the positivity emanating from the residents of the camp.
“There was so much hope and resiliency within the camp,” Redlin said. “The people were all so optimistic that things would get better.”
While on the ground the Macalester trio immersed themselves in the refugee camp. They quickly got to work and tried to experience the culture as much as they could, in order to get a feel for the camp and all that went on there.
They ate dinner with many residents of the camp, which was a particularly powerful experience for them. “These people had almost everything taken away from them. To share a meal with them was more powerful than I could have ever imagined,” Redlin said.
They also set up focus groups, so they could hear what the refugees had to say and start to develop more of an idea of what their solution would be to the question they proposed earlier: “How can we reimagine the refugee camp experience?” Redlin, Humes and Hymoff were trying to change the refugee system “so people see refugees as real humans, with talents and abilities, instead of just mouths to feed,” Redlin said. “Camps then become an incubator of human capabilities, where camp occupants take an active role in their future.”
Overall, the trip was a success. Once back in the states, the three students got together and collaborated to create a presentation with a written report, a program proposal and presentation of the video project that was created during this trip. This trip had a lasting impact on those that embarked. Redlin is still in contact with some of the people he met in the camp, and even says he has shifted some of his academic focuses to better help him to continue his work in this field.
This trip was impactful for all the students, so impactful in fact that, Redlin was driven to say, “This was the most impactful and inspirational project I have ever been a part of…Being able to hear these stories and develop these relationships is something that will have a lasting impact.”
HUNTER IN CAPE TOWN
“The experience was life changing,” said Hunter Johnson ’16, looking back on his study away program in Cape Town, South Africa. The phrase “study away”, however, doesn’t come close to describing what these five months were actually like. A superb athlete and a three-year starter at wide receiver for the Macalester Football team, Johnson was quick to take advantage of the athletic opportunities presented to him during his time studying at the University of Cape Town.
One of the decisions which came very naturally was joining the University of Cape Town (UCT) Surf Club. Growing up five minutes from the beach in Malibu, California, Johnson began surfing when he was young. Although the time commitments of varsity sports in high school often prevented him from getting out on his board, Johnson has made an effort to surf more in recent years. Spending time in landlocked Minnesota has made him realize how much surfing means to him. Johnson now makes sure to get out on the water every opportunity he gets. While in Cape Town, Johnson participated in several surf competitions and a “surf outreach” program, in which he was able to help kids ages 5-15 with their homework, teach them valuable life skills and catch some waves with them every day.
The other athletic venture Johnson decided to undertake was joining the UCT Judo Club. Despite having no previous experience, Johnson earned his stripes quickly, and was able to compete in two Judo tournaments during his stay. After facing some stiff competition, he learned that he had sparred against Judo black belts in the majority of his matches. Even so, Johnson performed well and learned a lot.
Johnson also had many memorable experiences outside of athletics. During the beginning of the program, Johnson and the other students were taken on a tour of Langa Township within Cape Town. Langa, an important historical site in South Africa, is filled with culture. During their visit, Hunter and the other students were presented with many traditional South African musical performances by members of the Xhosa ethnic group of South Africa. Afterwards, the performers asked the group if anyone wanted to learn how to play. Johnson, who has taken an interest in playing hand drums throughout his life, was eager to volunteer. Along with a friend, he learned some traditional South African rhythms on a djembe, a common African hand drum, while sitting on the street corner.
The trip itself wasn’t too difficult for Johnson to set up. After getting recommendations from a couple tof his friends who had visited South Africa, Johnson went to the Center for Study Away at Macalester and found an advisor. The program Johnson enrolled in, IES Abroad, organized everything between Johnson and the University of Cape Town. All he had to do was fill out an application and write a few essays. During the trip, Johnson lived with one roommate in a four story flat just off of the UCT campus.
Johnson’s experience is one that he will never forget. Traveling over 8,000 miles with a group of students that he had never met before into the extremely diverse area of Cape Town, Johnson was required to overcome cultural barriers on a daily basis in order to communicate with everyone around him. It gave him a brand new perspective on education
and life in general. After returning to Macalester, Johnson reflected, “I was reminded of all the reasons I am grateful simply to be alive.”