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Posted at 9:38 AM ET, 01/27/2011


By Mai Shbeta

British Council Global Changemakers is a network of young social entrepreneurs and community activists from 110 countries worldwide.

"RUN!!! RUN!!!!! Go in your tent!! Don't talk!!"

It's dark and noisy. Solders are screaming at us. What? Where am I? I'm supposed to be walking in the congress center, meeting people and going to sessions.

Well, it seems like the "refugee run" session is just a little different than I thought it would be. How many times have I heard presentations and talks about refugees living in camps, with no food and no medical care? I'm sure that each one of you has heard at least once in your life such a presentation. And you probably forgot about it completely the second you walked out of the room because it didn't leave much of an impression on you.

But if you were a refugee yourself, if you had experienced violence and fear -- do you think you would ever forget about it? No. It would probably be in your mind every single day.

The "refugee run" (of the UNHCR) is a simulation of 25 minutes at a refugee camp. Before entering, each person gets a new identity and has to behave according to that. The place looks just like a real camp and there are solders with weapons screaming and threatening you. I felt helpless, scared, and I just wanted the simulation to be over.

Thank God I have the privilege of someone ending this horror just by saying "the simulation is over." But millions of people around the world don't have this privilege. For them it's not a simulation. It's how they live every single day.

This was one of the most powerful experiences I had in my life. And I'm sure I will never ever forget it. Now I have a different perspective on that. And I know that I will do whatever I can to stop this horrible thing.

How amazing would it be if solders, politicians and leaders would have this simulation. Maybe this wouldn't end the war or the camps, but it would at least make them treat the refugees better.

Mai lives in a Peace Village called "The Oasis of Peace" (Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salem in Hebrew and Arabic), which is the only place in Israel where Palestinians and Jews choose to live together as a community. Mai's father is a Palestinian Muslim and her mother is a Jew. Her activism focuses on fostering peace in the Middle East. She has attended numerous peace camps as a participant and a facilitator, and has participated in and led peace dialogues across Israel.

Since she was a child, Mai has believed that her life's mission is to promote peace, because no one in the entire world can tell her that peace is not possible -- she sees her family as living proof that it is. Mai has just begun her first year of legal studies and is planning to pursue a second degree in international relations before becoming a human rights lawyer.

By Mai Shbeta  | January 27, 2011; 9:38 AM ET
Categories:  Mai Shbeta  
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