On September 11-13, 70 medical residents, physicians, NGO workers, and graduate students from University of Minnesota schools of public health, public affairs, journalism, and geography gathered at a camp south of Minneapolis to participate in a simulated humanitarian crisis. This was the fourth year for this unique learning and preparedness experience.
The crisis echoed real situations that we are all too familiar with — war and strife in one country sends refugees fleeing to the relative safety of a neighboring country. The goal of the weekend was to better prepare those who might be called to assist those in need.
After a first day of workshops, students formed interdisciplinary teams that assessed the border of the imaginary countries of Gopherstan and Badgeria. Both countries had unstable governments and poor infrastructure. At the time, innumerable Badgerian refugees had just moved into Gopherstan and were scattered throughout refugee camps. The refugees were experiencing multiple inter-related problems typical of humanitarian disasters. Students in the main course assessed the area with the intent of planning an intervention to address the needs of the population. Journalism students reported on events and geography students provided real time mapping.
Ms. Joy Hwang, a fourth year student in the dual-degree PharmD/MPH program, stated “since childhood, I’ve always been interested in humanitarian work at the global scale. The opportunity to take this course at the University of Minnesota is one of the primary reasons why I decided to select it as my first-choice of an institution for my professional academic training.” Ms. Hwang went on to comment that “although the course only gave me a small glimpse into what it’s like to be a humanitarian worker, the insightful experience has greatly reinforced my interest in the field. The opportunity to connect with and learn from the professionals who have ‘been there and done that’ in the relief work was also beneficial to my learning experience.”
Another SPH student, first-year epidemiology MPH candidate Ms. Jacqueline Logan, commented that “the humanitarian crisis simulation course was a wild combination of stress, anxiety, excitement, understanding, and appreciation – just what I imagine a real-world crisis situation would look like. I gained insight into the world of situation flow, leadership, cooperation, and working alongside strangers-turned-team in a constantly-changing environment. I am incredibly interested in participating in global aid relief in the future, and I used this weekend as an evaluation of my abilities in the field. I am excited to now have an informational foundation for my pursuit of humanitarianism, and to have gleaned mountains of learning and growth from this course.”
The Humanitarian Crisis Simulation course is offered as both a for-credit academic course for University of Minnesota Students and a continuing education course for community members in many disciplines. The course is partly sponsored and planned by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center (PERLC) grant. The event is made possible through an incredible outpouring of volunteer effort, with approximately 100 volunteers giving their time to plan the event and carry-out all aspects of the simulation during the weekend. Faculty come from the University of Minnesota, Mayo Medical School, Case Western Reserve, The New School, University of Montreal, and the CDC. The Minnesota National Guard, American Refugee Committee, American Red Cross, Minnesota International NGO Network, and WellShare International, all provide expertise and resources. More information on the course can be found on the website at http://www.globalhealth.umn.edu/education/humanitarian-simulation/.