February 2, 2009

Tough Guy Challenge ≥ Refugee Run?

On his excellent new blog, Aid Watch, Bill Easterly recently took to task the UN High Commission on Refugees for putting together a "Refugee Run" at the Davos economic conference for its embodiment of what he sees as "sensationalizing, patronizing, and dehumanizing attitudes" towards refugees and their plight (a topic he returns to in another great post today as well). Perhaps the real problem with the UNHCR's simulated refugee experience was that they undersold it - look how successful this year's Tough Guy competition was at getting people to crawl through the mud under barbwire and they require £250, an updated tetanus shot and a signed death warrant:


For further proof that the UNHCR should probably be setting up shop outside of extreme sporting events rather than high level meetings of the World Economic Forum see the rest of the photos at the Big Picture.

Aside: Like Easterly's commenters I've got mixed feelings about "educational" events such as the "Refugee Run" - which I have no personal knowledge of, but which is by no means the first or only such recreation in the attempt to raise awareness of a cause - they are legion and their effectiveness and "worth" are widely disparate.  Having been involved in the advocacy/education arm (for lack of a better term) of non-profit work for the last couple of years I've participated, observed and even led more than a few of these with varying degrees of success and uncertainty.  One of the things that I think those of us who are passionate about these issues forget is that the journey towards becoming an informed advocate for causes of global injustice is just that, a journey, a process of becoming aware, educated and empowered.  For a lot of people that process begins with empathy.  Some people encounter extreme poverty, violence or hunger through travel, some through relationships, some by reading books by esteemed authors such as Monsieur Easterly and some by participating in "educational" events like the "Refugee Run."  None of these individuals will emerge from their respective encounter with the full picture but they may emerge with a desire to see more fully.  Again, from my own experience, there are ways to talk about issues of gross global injustice while at the same time affirming the dignity and worth of those trapped in their midst.  I am a fan of Easterly and his writings but I would wager that far more passionate, well informed, active advocates have begun their own journey at the entrance to a "refugee run" than they have at the introduction to one of his books - though I highly recommend they seek out a copy as soon as they come out the other side!

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