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Elias Williams
Visitors in the "Forced From Home" exhibition's dome structure watch a 360-degree video highlighting the final destinations of many refugees and the living conditions and challenges there.

SALT LAKE CITY — An exhibition coming to Salt Lake City Sept. 18-24 will allow visitors to step into the life of a refugee and observe the challenges of more than 65 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.

Forced From Home,” a traveling exhibition presented by Doctors Without Borders, aims to help the American public understand refugee life by experiencing it through interactive activities and displays such as 360-degree video and virtual reality.

“This is the closest that the public might have to ever experiencing what it’s like to be a displaced person and a refugee,” said Marisa Litster, a Doctors Without Borders nurse and “Forced From Home” tour guide.

The tour leads visitors through 10 stations representing the journey of a refugee. The scenarios presented at these stations simulate some of the challenges of push factors, travel, legal status, basic needs, health care and shelter for individuals forced to flee from Afghanistan, Burundi, Honduras, South Sudan and Syria.

Doctors Without Borders field workers — including doctors, nurses, logisticians and field coordinators — serve as tour guides at the exhibition, sharing their personal experiences of helping refugees.

“It’s an opportunity for those who come to speak directly with (Doctors Without Borders) field workers who have firsthand experiences working these areas and who will be sharing their stories of the people that they met and the stories that they have experienced while inside the camps,” said Eric Pitts, a Doctors Without Borders logistician. “It’s not just talking about the crisis in terms of numbers … it’s talking about the crisis in terms of individual people.”

The 360-degree video displayed in a dome structure at the beginning of each tour makes visitors feel as if they are in the middle of a refugee camp and a part of what is happening there, according to Pitts.

“One of the films that is shown in the dome is about Tanzania, and it’s a camp I worked in for Burundian refugees,” Pitts said. “When I’m inside the dome watching the film, I really feel like I’m back inside of the camp, and I can imagine for visitors coming that they get the same experience.”

Litster said she thinks the most impactful part of the tour is the section highlighting the migratory passages of refugees because visitors realize at this station how dangerous the journey is.

“For people to willingly hop on a boat where the chance of survival unless they are rescued is very low, the reasons that they would be forced from their home must be so strong,” Litster said. “I think it’s at that moment that things start to click, and really we see the visitors start to engage more from that point on in the rest of the tour.”

Pitts said he has seen the exhibition make a difference by giving visitors information that enables them to become more engaged in reacting to the refugee crisis.

“After coming through the exhibition, they now have some stories, and they are thinking about the refugee crisis as a person who’s fleeing, as a family who’s fleeing, as individual people — not just as something that they see visually in the news,” Pitts said. “It brings a more personal experience, so that they can imagine themselves in that type of situation, and they have an understanding of the families that are in that type of situation.”

The outdoor exhibition is free and open to the public. It will be in Salt Lake City from Sept. 18-24, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., in the Library Plaza at 210 E. 400 South. Tours take between 45 minutes to an hour to complete and run every 15 minutes on weekdays, every eight minutes on weekends.

Now in its second year, the exhibition's 2017 tour also includes stops in Boulder, Colorado; Portland, Oregon; Oakland, California; Santa Monica, California, and Seattle.

Doctors Without Borders toured “Forced From Home” throughout the East Coast last year and hopes to take the exhibition through the Southern United States next year, according to Litster.

sharris@deseretnews.com