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Forced From Home teaches Santa Monica about refugee life




John Fiddler in front of the cholera tent at the
John Fiddler in front of the cholera tent at the "Forced from Home" exhibition
Julian Burrell

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In places around the world, including Syria and Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing wars to find survival. It's an international crisis but one that can be difficult to understand for people who don't encounter it in their daily lives, especially here in Southern California. 

"I just wish people at home could see what we're going through," said John Fiddler, nurse practitioner for Doctors Without Borders, a global organization that provides medical assistance to displaced persons.

Fiddler has a lot of experience traveling to devastated locations around the world, bringing medical help to people in need. Now Doctors Without Borders has a new exhibition designed to showcase the experience.

It's called, "Forced From Home," it's located right next to Santa Monica Beach.

John Fiddler speaks with KPCC's Josie Huang at the boat that's meant to represent how displaced people would flee war-torn countries by sea. Fiddler says this boat would be a more luxurious example
John Fiddler speaks with KPCC's Josie Huang at the boat that's meant to represent how displaced people would flee war-torn countries by sea. Fiddler says this boat would be a more luxurious example
Julian Burrell

The experience takes up roughly 10,000 square feet in the parking lot right next to the beach. It's made up of eight stations, each showcasing a different part of the refugee journey. 

"We've brought accoutrements from the field so that people can touch and see and walk through and really get a taste for what it may be like to be forced from home," Fiddler said.

The stations feature things like barbed wire barricades to show the hazards that refugees have to navigate and tents that represent shelters for families on the run.

The barbed wire barricades are meant to represent what refugees have to deal with as they flee their home countries.
The barbed wire barricades are meant to represent what refugees have to deal with as they flee their home countries.
Julian Burrell

Fiddler believes that even the beautiful atmosphere of Santa Monica makes for an effective juxtaposition of the grim nature of the exhibit.

"I was telling a tour group this morning, imagine this is not a beach, but in fact it's a desert," Fiddler said. "And as you hear some of the helicopters in this area, I tell them to imagine those are armies that they're trying to run from."

All of these details are meant to bring an issue that can feel like it's a million miles away front-and-center for anyone who comes by.

"I think the first thing to do is to learn about the experience, learn about what's going on. And to know that it's not so far from you," Fiddler said. "I mean the fires in California that just happened. People are ... forced from home by a natural disaster. None of us are immune from these kinds of things. We always think that we're safe until we're not."

A representation fo the sort of tent a refugee family would live in.
A representation fo the sort of tent a refugee family would live in.
Julian Burrell

To hear more about the Forced From Home exhibition, click the blue play button above.