How do you teach empathy and compassion to young leaders? Is it possible to teach values of cognitive emotions? Can we teach and learn through a simulation of a real-life experience? Can we briefly walk in somebody’s shoes and gain understanding and a deeper insight on what they are going through daily?
These are some of the vital questions asked prior to the Compassion Week taking place at African Leadership Academy this week. The focus is on experiencing what it’s like living in a refugee camp.
The refugee camp is situated in Kenya, known as Dadaab Refugee Camp. To provide context on Dadaab Refugee Camp; it is one of the largest refugee settlements in the world with populations exceeding 375 000, most of the refugees in the camp come from Somaliland and South Sudan. The reasons for displacement are drought and/or violence resulting from conflicts in their home countries. Among the challenges faced by Dadaab Refugee Camp range from the scarcity of resources, over population, lack of medical staff and shortage of funds to enable the effective running of the camp. The refugees at the camp live under wearisome conditions, the refugees lack necessities such as water, food, basic sanitation, and health care, and all of which is essential to sustaining life.
The struggles move beyond the necessities of survival to questions of identity and life after the settlements. The Entrepreneurial Leadership designed the experiential, which took place over a period of 24 hours, and simulated the conditions of Dadaab Refugee Settlement. The experiential was a way to teach the values of empathy and compassion. It is important to note that compassion is one of the core values at ALA. This was a unique opportunity for the young leaders to learn and practice compassion using a real-life experience that challenged their understanding of life in a refugee camp.
The young leaders were divided into different groups to take on roles that are typically present at a refugee camp; the security forces (police officials from Kenya), the social entrepreneurs (from the US), the refugees (from South Sudan, Somaliland), the UNHRC volunteers, and the media and journalists. The students were also encouraged to challenge themselves and absorb the roles they were given both physically and mentally.
On conclusion, our young leaders realized that empathy and compassion have no boundaries. In the end, it all comes down to how we choose to view and interact with a particular situation and as well as the people affected. There was a deep understanding that merged strong connections between the different groups within the camp. Everyone, realized that the end goal was survival and it was important to respect everyone’s role in reaching that goal.