SMU Students Build Refugee Camp on Campus

By Julie Tam

SMU is turning part of its campus into a refugee camp, straight out of a third-world country. Students are building and living in makeshift tents and huts in a "Living Village" with a larger objective in mind.

On a peaceful Saturday in the middle of campus, students worked hand-in-hand with professionals to build a mock refugee camp for times of natural disaster and war. Students are building a tornado-proof clay igloo. They'll use solar energy to power the camp and a water kiosk where the entire community will get their water.

About 20 engineering students will spend four days next week living in, what may seem like temporary housing to the developed world, but what can serve as long-term housing for people with no other options.

"People tend to kind of focus on their immediate lives and not really think of anything beyond that," said Jonathan Barger, a senior industrial engineering student.

In urban areas, where you'd find plastic water bottles, students are throwing them into a compactor, crushing them, and then making plastic bricks bound by wire, with which they can build a hut insulated by plastic bags and Styrofoam and sealed with mud and grass.

"I can see the amount of work that it takes to build this shelter that for someone that doesn't have it, it's such a great thing, so valuable," said Leslie Hurley, a freshman environmental engineering student.

Students are learning a lesson in engineering and humanity that the university hopes they will use to improve the world.

"The big story for us is that engineering is not only limited for the top half of the world's population. There are immense problems that 3 billion people face everyday and that smart engineers need to take those problems just as seriously," said Geoffrey Orsak, dean of SMU's Lyle School of Engineering.

The public is invited to tour the "Living Village" near the main quad of the SMU campus. Students will be living in the camp Monday through Thursday of next week.