Can you imagine what it feels like to be a refugee? To be forced to flee your country and make your way to a new land? To negotiate physical borders and cultural barriers as you try to keep your family safe and give them a normal life? Ten delegates from Irish Red Cross Youth got the chance to not just hear about the struggles that refugees face, but to experience some of them themselves when they took part in the “Youth on the Run” programme in Iceland, early this year.
The purpose of the “Youth on the Run” programme is to enable young people to put themselves in the shoes of refugees and asylum seekers around the world, via a 24-hour role-play game. The role-play is based upon the interaction of participants (who play the roles of refugees) and instructors (who play the roles of various characters that the refugees meet on their long journey). By using this unconventional learning method, young people are more likely to develop tolerance for refugees and reduce prejudice and racism.
The Irish Red Cross team consisted of five participants: Gary Gaughan (17, Clontarf Branch), Paul Price (18, Navan Branch), David Hayes (19, Mallow Branch), Ellen White (17, Carrick an Suir Branch) and Megan Dawson (17, Limerick City Branch) who were accompanied by five leaders: Caitriona Ryan (NYWG), Kevin Brennan (NYWG), Tom Doyle (Santry Branch), Orla Murphy (Mallow Branch) and Catriona Finn (Youth Department Staff). Teams from the Red Cross National Societies of Belgium (Flanders), Germany and Italy also took part.
The team were given the opportunity to take part in the game – assuming new identities, joining new families and struggling with bureaucracy, borders and the uncertainty of what was going to happen next. After the game, they attended workshops and training with the Icelandic Red Cross in order to prepare them to become instructors and leaders and to learn to run the game themselves. The experience was a challenging one, but worthwhile according to David Hayes, “Actually placing yourself in a refugee’s footsteps for a day was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, having totally changed my outlook on their plight. I simply don’t think I could imagine how their life is, without having played the game”.
Project Manager and Game Leader Arnar Benjamín Kristjánsson was impressed by the dedication of the Irish team and expressed his confidence in their ability to bring it back to Ireland successfully: “The Irish team did extremely well and I'm very proud of them, I think they will be good instructors and they have my seal of approval. And that seal is not given out to anybody; people must really deserve it to get it.”
The Icelandic Red Cross have been running the game in Iceland since 1999, but this international training was conceived in 2008 when Arnar Benjamín Kristjánsson (Icelandic Red Cross) and Martina Vertuccio (Italian Red Cross) decided to try to promote the game to other Red Cross National Societies in Europe. With them, the team of Þrúður Kristjánsdóttir (Project Manager and Game Leader, Icelandic Red Cross), Jón Þorsteinn Sigurðsson (Project Manager and National Board Member, Icelandic Red Cross), Jón Brynjar Birgisson (Staff member Icelandic Red Cross), Hannes Arnórsson (Icelandic Red Cross) and Steindór Gunnar Steindórsson (Icelandic Red Cross) spent months translating the game materials and organising the logistics and rollout of the game before contacting the four other participating countries to apply to the European Youth Office for funding.
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Pictured Left: Youth on the Run’s “Team Ireland” meeting The Secretary General of the Icelandic Red Cross, Mr. Kristján Sturluson, Chairperson of the Youth Working Group Ms. Margrét Inga Gudmundsdottir and YOTR Game Leader Mr. Arnar Benjamín Kristjánsson.