See crisis through refugees’ eyes at exhibit stopping in Austin

Local News

Several years into the ongoing refugee crisis, an international aid group is bringing to Austin a mobile exhibit to showcase what it’s like to leave home behind from a refugee’s point of view.

Texas has heard a lot about the crisis — and the public debate it generates — as Central American families have fled violence in their home countries over the last several years. The exhibit, created by Doctors Without Borders, aims to give people a new perspective.

“What we want more than anything is just for the public to understand more what some of the other human beings in this world are going through right now,” Giless de Gilles said, “and some of the struggles they’re going through to have a better life and to stay alive.”

De Gilles lives in Austin and is a logistical coordinator for the Forced From Home exhibit, a self-contained trailer that opens up into a walk-through display. He also recently finished up a stint in the Central African Republic, building the country’s only surgical hospital. 

A builder by trade, de Gilles was tired of building lavish homes here. “I wanted to do something that mattered a little more to me,” he said.

The hospital construction was similar to his regular work, he said, with a few more problems trying to get materials and labor. The biggest difference, though, was how imminent the deadline to finish felt.

“Every day that you’re behind schedule is lives lost,” he said.

He now wants to bring his story and the story of other field workers to people in central Texas. Forced From Home travels to a different part of the country each year, and this year the group is focusing on the south and Midwest.

The exhibit will showcase stories from field workers and illustrate the difficulties refugees undergo through virtual reality videos Doctors Without Borders produced.

De Gilles hopes it expands what people think being a refugee means.

“It’s easy to think, ‘OK, I no longer have my home.’ But there’s a whole number of other things that you don’t think about – if you’re diabetic, if you’re pregnant, if you have children,” he said. “All of the medical conditions that you would normally have to deal with when you have a stable life suddenly become that much more important and that much more difficult once you don’t have a stable life, once you don’t have shelter, once you don’t have running water or electricity or an income.”

The exhibit debuts in Austin Friday at 11 a.m. at the Terrazas Branch of the Austin Public Library. Saturday, it will open at the Market at Lakeline, and Sunday at the Georgetown Public Libary. Next week, it will spend Monday and Tuesday at St. Edward’s University and will wrap up its stint here at the University of Texas at Austin on Friday. After that, it heads to College Station.

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