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Posted at 9:07 AM ET, 01/27/2011

The power of experience

By Raquel Helen Silva

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

Today was such a busy and exciting day. There were so many things to do and the first of the them was the UNHCR Refugee Run. It is a simulation that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has created to replicate the environment in which refugees and internally displaced people live. It was such an intense and emotional experience. The whole fact that you don't have a home, may not speak the language, with no food and water, living a hopeless life is an enormous challenge. It was great to experience what it is like to live that way, because you feel their needs and understand how pressing the issues they face are.

Being in the darkness, getting orders from strangers, blackmailing soldiers to cross the borders and living in a small tent show how important comfort, love, and sense of belonging are, the huge value a life has and how much we take them for granted. The big idea to the simulation was to make different decisions and take different actions from a whole new perspective.

Some governments, people, companies and organizations will make their decisions inside a nice office and sign papers that influence or determine the future of millions of people who are in some hard situation. And the most impressive thing is that the decision-makers often have not exactly experienced the struggling. I believe that education and research in any field is important when it comes to tackling any issue.

I was a delegate of France in a Model UN at a university in Brazil last year. I read and studied a lot and that made me feel like I understood and cared about the issue. But I knew I would never be able to really feel what it was like to be a refugee if I had never been exposed to that specific environment. And the simulation provided us with a little hint of the way of life and the difficulties and solutions those families find.They shouldn't be labeled as "refugees," the bad person who comes to my country. They're human beings, just like we are, who had a family and a place to live they could call home, and for various reasons they don't have it anymore.

Nobody likes to depend on other people,but in this specific context it is not about what people will think about you, but how you will manage to survive. It's funny to go backwards in history and see that although human beings have evolved their brain capacities, in extreme situations the cooperation, understanding, respect and simplicity are all it takes to survive. I believe people should not be reading or talking about something they have only heard of. They should experience it, form their own opinions and then find out how they can change the situation. I just wanted the simulation to be over, because I was scared. Imagine what it is like to be a refugee and not know how that will end. Because it is not a model. It is real life.

Raquel began working in her local community at the age of 9. For the last decade, she has been involved in various volunteer efforts, from dance and teaching English to helping underprivileged children to collecting, separating and selling recycled materials to raise funds for community projects. She has served as a Brazilian Youth Ambassador in the United States since 2008, and in 2009 she was the only Brazilian delegate in the Women2Women America Conference. Raquel believes in the power of great ideas, curiosity and opportunities. She is currently enrolled at the Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais, where she is studying international relations, and the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, where she is studying government. Raquel is fascinated by different cultures, which is why she has learned how to say "butterfly" in more than 20 languages.

By Raquel Helen Silva  | January 27, 2011; 9:07 AM ET
Categories:  Raquel Helen Silva  
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