More than a hundred students and humanitarian relief professionals spent April 24-26, 2015 learning how to rapidly respond to a refugee crisis while being faced with a host of stressful distractions from confrontational child soldiers to rogue journalists. It was all part of the annual disaster simulation organized by The Lavine Family Humanitarian Studies Initiative, the flagship training and professional development program of the Humanitarian Academy at Harvard. The simulation exercise is the culmination of the academy’s two-week Humanitarian Response Intensive Course.

For the weekend, Harold Parker State Forest in North Andover, Mass., was transformed into a Sub-Saharan border region beset by extreme weather, food shortages, and militia violence. Students were assigned to teams representing nongovernmental organization such as CARE and Save the Children, and worked to develop a plan to provide services for the region’s refugees.

The line between reality and simulation blurred this year as participants woke on Saturday to news of a massive earthquake in Nepal. Several faculty members and humanitarian professionals participating in the simulation were called in by their organizations to deploy to Nepal.

Graduate student Mohit Nair told the Boston Globe that he is “more determined than ever” to pursue a career in humanitarian relief work after participating in the simulation.

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