Experience life in a refugee camp — and learn how to help — June 25

The World Refugee Day Simulation offers an immersive experience and concrete steps to take action. UAB graduate student Agok Ayuen, who grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya and is now training in the School of Public Health, is helping to organize the event.
Written by: Matt Windsor
Media contact: Anna Jones

rep agok ayuen 550pxAgok Ayuen, UAB graduate student, is helping organize the World Refugee Day Simulation Event on June 25 at Homewood Central Park.
Photography: Steve Wood
There are more refugees worldwide today than at any point in recorded history — more than 100 million, with the conflict in Ukraine the latest trigger, according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. On June 25, former refugee and current University of Alabama at Birmingham graduate student Agok Ayuen will share her personal story and show the public what life in a refugee camp is like — and how they can help refugees in Alabama and beyond right now.

Through a partnership with Alabama Interfaith Refugee Partnership, Ayuen and UAB School of Public Health assistant professor and ALIRP board member Meredith Gartin, Ph.D., will help put on the World Refugee Day Simulation Event from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at Homewood Central Park.  

Simulation participants will get a feel for what it is like seeking entry and living in a refugee camp. They will receive packets assigning them a backstory and tasks that take them through medical, feeding and school units, and isolation and camp waiting areas. Simulations last an hour and will occur from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

“The goal is to help people feel what it is like to live in a refugee camp and understand that refugees experience is not just on television, but something happening to real people all over the world,” Ayuen said.

From South Sudan to Rock Island, USA

Ayuen and her family are some of those people. Her parents met in a refugee camp in Kenya, where both had fled from warfare in Sudan. Ayuen and her four siblings were born in the camp while her parents, like many refugees, were applying for asylum to countries around the world.

“They applied for years, and were denied every time,” Ayuen said. “Finally, when I was 7, my mother’s application was accepted by the United States and New Zealand. My uncle was already living in Rock Island, Illinois, so that is where we went.”

Ayuen and her siblings started going to school and learning English. By high school, she was aiming for a career in medicine and starring on her school’s track and cross-country teams.

Read more about the World Refugee Day Simulation Event here.

“Growing up, I thought I was going to be a doctor,” she said. “I learned about health workers in the refugee camp, and I saw the help they gave to mothers and their children with nutrition and getting them adequate care. I wanted to be a pediatrician or an OB-GYN.”

As an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee-Martin, Ayuen majored in biology and exercise science, with a concentration in public health. She also ran track and cross country, specializing in the 800 meters and the mile. While there, she discovered she liked the education, advocacy and prevention aspects of public health more than medicine.  

Ayuen chose UAB for graduate school and is nearing the end of training for her master’s degree in public health from the UAB School of Public Health, with a concentration in maternal and child health policy and leadership. During her time at UAB, she also became a member of the Blazer track and cross-country teams. 

Ayuen has not yet decided what she will do after graduation, but she is determined to be involved.

“There are so many different ways you can go with a public health degree,” she said. “I want to go back to Africa and help people out the best that I can.”