2008 Tour

The End, and the Beginning

Posted by: Nele Segers


Sunday, the end.

More than 1,600 visitors today. All of them had been waiting in the wind and the cold to be able to have a glance at the Refugee Camp. Heartwarming for us, the guides. We all started to get tired and our voices were slowly fading, but this amount of interest gives you a huge boost to go on. We fought the planes flying overhead for the last day, trying to raise our cracked voices over their noise.

The sun is going down, and at 5:25 pm we start the very last tour of this year. I have the honor to take the last visitors through the exhibit. But then everything is over.

Or should I say everything starts? All of us return to work. The "office people" will go on trying to find people to work out in the field, to raise awareness of situations that MSF is dealing with, or trying to find the funds for all the work and sending people out. The guides on their side are preparing to go back in the field: Masisi (Democratic Republic of Congo), Mindanao (Philippines), or Nairobi (Kenya), Batangafo and Kabo (Central African Republic) … The field is calling me and so many others back. Back to the work that we are meant to do.

A Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City 2008 Tour Ends

Posted by: melissap

MSF thanks everyone who came out to the exhibit in San Francisco, LA, Santa Monica, and San Diego. It is the consistently strong response of our visitors that encourage us to continue A Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City.

Keep in contact with MSF by uploading your Refugee Camp exhibit photos to our Flickr photostream, becoming a fan of our Facebook page, adding your comments to this blog, and visiting our Web site for stories, photos, videos, and podcasts on the projects and issues MSF is working on around the world. Until next time…

San Diego Holds California Record

Posted by: melissap

saturday san diego

The Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City brought out more than 1,600 visitors on Saturday—the largest amount of people in one day we’ve had so far in California, and dangerously close to our all-time record of about 1,800 in Chicago. Tell your friends to come out to Balboa Park between 9 am and 5:30 pm today, our last day in San Diego and the last day of this year’s tour, and let’s break another record.

Thinking Not in Numbers, But of Human Beings in DRC

Posted by: melissap


As the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to be in the news, visitors to the Refugee Camp exhibit have been asking what MSF is doing to help the vast numbers of people who have been wounded and displaced yet again. Luis Encinas, a Refugee Camp exhibit guide who coordinates operational strategies for seven projects in the DRC, answers some questions.

What is the reality for the people in eastern DRC right now?

We are facing a very worrying situation on the ground right now in terms of the direct consequences of violence on civilians. The situation which started toward the end of August has been deteriorating in the last weeks. MSF is responding by providing medical and humanitarian support to them, concentrating our efforts of those people who have had to flee from one place to another place due to the volatile situation and instability.

What does the conflict translate to in terms of people’s day to day existence?

It means you and your family are walking for miles and miles for days, needing shelter, water, food, to have the minimum for survival. And you need help immediately. As an international medical organization, we have an important role to play in giving that support—first to those who those have been wounded or those who need diagnoses and treatment for diseases.

Another major issue is cholera. We’ve already found many spots where cholera has emerged. The fact that people are arriving in high-concentration areas with a low levels of sanitation and a lack of water—those are the conditions where a cholera outbreak can develop quickly. That’s one of MSF’s expertise—setting up a cholera treatment center, isolating the patients and treating them, as well as starting to raise awareness in the area of how to recognize and prevent the disease in order to protect the people who are not yet sick.

Were many of these displaced people already displaced?

The fact that many of these people who are fleeing the violence had already fled before—two, three, who knows how many times they’ve been displaced—this makes them even more vulnerable to disease and increases their needs.

Another thing is the people that we are seeing in these camps may represent only 15 or 20 percent of the people who have been displaced. Many people who fled are staying with host families, possibly putting their hosts in danger of disease as well. So what we are seeing is really only the tip of the iceberg.

What obstacles is MSF facing in providing aid right now?

Lack of information and of security. It’s hard to have a clear idea about the numbers of displaced people between those in the camps and those staying with host families. That makes it hard to know how large the needs are. Second is the security—it’s tough in this situation to reach the population, so it’s difficult to respond to their needs.

What have you been telling visitors who ask about what is happening in eastern Congo?

Since I arrived here in California, DRC has been at the top of the news and visitors to the camp have been asking about it and about what we are doing. I’ve given briefings to the other guides so they can give the key points to the public. The numbers that we talk about are, due to the lack of information, approximate, based on someone going camp to camp and doing a count, and they are given out to give a basic idea of the scope of the situation. But what is more important is for visitors to the camp not to think about this in terms of numbers—because we are talking about human beings here and of basic, humanitarian needs.

A Harsh Reality in a Refugee Camp

Posted by: PeninahN

Peninah Ndungu, a Kenyan national and an MSF clinical officer (similar to a physician’s assistant), talks about one of the hardest situations she had to deal with while working in a refugee camp in Uganda.






‘In the End, I Didn’t Want to Leave’

Posted by: PeninahN

A Kenyan clinical officer, similar to a physician’s assistant in the US, talks about how she very reluctantly started working with MSF in a refugee camp.







Diary From Peru – Helping Another Kind of Displaced People

Posted by: LuisE


The 42 million people uprooted by war who we talk about during the exhibit do not include those displaced by natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes. But many of the people affected by such disasters often end up living in IDP camps, in some of the same conditions as those displaced by violent conflict—vulnerable to disease and lack of food and water, and having suffered physical and mental trauma.

On August 15, 2007, an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale shook the coast of Peru, killing 600 people, wounding 2,000, and making tens of thousands of people newly displaced. MSF arrived within 24 hours to assess the needs, and Luis Encinas served as Emergency Coordinator for the mission that followed, leading his team into the severely affected town of Guadalupe. Read part of the diary Luis kept during the emergency intervention below.

You can also read a story about the emergency intervention here.

August 26 – 28, 2007

There’s something about Guadalupe, something that is not understandable even with the best will in the world. In the town center there is a sense of desolation everywhere. Practically all the houses have been destroyed. People live on the ground, outside, or under roofs made of cardboard and old rags. It has been nearly two weeks since the earthquake hit, and it seems like it happened yesterday.

There have been some ad-hoc distributions of food and water. The health center, by a miracle of nature, has survived. But inside, the staff are like zombies. Over a week, while they struggled to get back on their feet, the number of consultations tripled. The doctor has no mental strength left: “I am empty,” he tells me, with tears in his eyes. The center has become a sort of spiritual refuge—the mayor is there, but he is also having trouble concentrating.

The inhabitants feel that they have been abandoned. We later discover, behind a partly destroyed house, a mother and her little girl who had been trapped for hours under the debris of their house, but had survived. The two of them are lying on a makeshift bed; the mother has swollen feet, one of which is bent. Wendy, her five-year-old daughter, has a cast which covers her legs and hips, a cast that smells of urine and the odors of a wound. Their story is a moving one. The day after the earthquake her husband had brought them to the hospital in Ica, a scene of total chaos. It took them one and a half hours to travel the 12 km to the hospital. They stayed there for two hours and then were sent home because their lives were not in danger.

As for us, in the following days we saw nine other people in the same situation: fractures of the pelvis, humerus, lumbar vertebrae. For three long days, our priority goes by one name: Guadalupe. The media will have a field day here, reporting about the “olvidados,” “the forgotten ones.”

Day 2 in San Diego – The Blue-Eyed Boy

Posted by: LuisE

"C’est parti !" – that’s the easy way to express in French this moment of starting again. At 8:54, the first students with their teacher arrive at the main gate, and slowly, each guide takes a group and dive into their 45-minute explanation.

My group is composed of very smart kids and we made a deal at the beginning of the tour—that we will all try to imagine for a while that we are part of a the same family escaping a place where we feel unsafe. Stage by stage, interactions, questions, comments emerge, proving that a certain degree of confidence has been established. I was impressed by the level of interest and intelligence of these young teens, but specially one student; throughout the tour he was really paying attention to every single word I spoke, answering my questions with ingenuity. The little blond boy with blue eyes was, like the majority of the other students, communicating to me that he was really trying to imagine being in the position of a refugee.

The last part of the tour includes a cholera outbreak tent with different possible scenarios. I chose the worst scenerio to present, and the group went from being spectators to actors, coming up with the correct response—to isolate the cholera patient. Sadly, five minutes per station is very short, and as a guide I have to concentrate on key messages in order not to make the tour too long and allow every group the same amount of time.

Applause is probably the best reaction you can receive from your group, as are comments like “Luis, it’s was great,” or “fabulous.” This makes you very happy and gives you a lot of energy. And, finally, at the end of the tour, when we talk about how long refugees or IDPs must stay in these conditions, you suddenly realize that now in the group’s mind, we are not talking about numbers that they read about in the newspaper, but about human beings, and at this moment you feel like you’ve reached your goal!

Around 11:30, the mayor of San Diego, together with an MSF representative, made a speech about the exhibition for local reporters and photographers. This is a little different from the reality on the field—we do have photographers come to projects, but it’s generally in order to get the attention of the press and the public. But the results are the same: informing people about what is going on.

At the end of the day, after I do not know how many planes I heard and saw passing overhead, forcing the guides to talk louder or stop talking for a moment, I just want to walk for a while and immerse myself in another reality. I took the opportunity to visit the San Diego Museum of Art. On the second floor, the Modigliani painting (a blue-eyed boy) reminded me of the same clever boy from this morning. Similar look, but with another message—he seemed to say, “Now, it’s my turn to teach you something. Open your eyes and listen to me.”

Mayor Welcomes MSF to San Diego

Posted by: melissap

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Mayor Jerry Sanders welcomed MSF and A Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City to San Diego during a press conference held at the exhibit on Thursday. After a speech by Mayor Sanders, MSF epidemiologist and MSF-USA boardmember Brigg Reilley said the exhibit is intended to raise awareness in the US of the 42 million people uprooted by war around the world, including places where he has worked—Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Sri Lanka.

See video of Mayor Sanders urging all San Diegans to come to the exhibit in order to better understand what many of their former refugee neighbors have been through.

Listen to the entire press conference:

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Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City is in San Diego

Posted by: melissap

The last stop on the 2008 Refugee Camp tour begins now. We will be in Balboa Park from Thursday, November 6, to Sunday, November 9, from 9 am to 5:30 pm every day.

In California, we have had a total of 9,074 visitors to the exhibit so far. Help us bring out the crowds in San Diego by becoming a fan of our Facebook page or sharing the news through other networking sites, and uploading your photos of the exhibit to our Flickr feed.

Every time we move the camp to a new city, our tireless team sets up the exhibit from scratch. See photos of the organized chaos in Balboa Park from Wednesday.