By Nonie Arora

Wimberley in front of Egyptian post-revolution graffiti, Courtesy of Wimberley

Many Duke students are unaware of the significant refugee population in Durham. But this is not true of the twelve students who brought back the stories of many Iraqi and Bhutanese refugees from Egypt and Nepal last semester.

DukeImmerse LEAPED (the Law, Ethics, and Political Economy of Displacement) provided students the opportunity to immerse themselves in another culture, both at Duke by taking four related courses and abroad in Cairo, Egypt or Damak, Nepal. Trinity sophomore Ronnie Wimberley was one of the lucky twelve. Wimberley, originally from Detroit, MI but most recently from Columbus, Georgia has lived in four different states and has attended ten different public schools, so he was already accustomed to acclimating to new environments.

He heard about the program because he had already been involved with The Kenan Institute for Ethics through the Ethics, Leadership, and Global Citizenship FOCUS program. Wimberley is actively involved with Duke’s Debate team, is a Duke Colloquium Fellow, and works closely with the First Generation College Student Network.

While in Cairo, Wimberley had the chance to work with the UN Refugee Agency in Cairo, Egypt (UNHCR) and NGOs working with refugee communities. Duke students travelled to homes to interview refugees in groups of two accompanied by a translator.

Wimberley recounted how many refugees were ripped from their home environments in Iraq – as it was bombed severely – and sought refuge in Egypt. The Egyptian government did not support the refugees.

Some of his experiences were completely unexpected. “In Egypt they are a lot more patriarchal. I was the only male in the Egypt group, so they would assume that I was the leader of the group. They would divert from her [the translator] and come talk to me, even though she was the one who understood Arabic better. That was the most shocking part for me. I wasn’t prepared for that,” he said.

The view from Wimberley’s apartment depicting refugee apartments, Courtesy of Wimberley

After the trip, the students chose the most compelling stories to present to local Durham schools (watch online) and to publish in the magazine Uprooted/RerootedWimberley focused on the ways in which people’s ideas of masculinity changed after displacement. He said that displacement “changed power dynamics in the home, such that the men wanted to maintain control and influence, but they expressed concern about losing control of their children.”

His desire to combat the inadequacies of UNHCR and focus on international aid and development led him the following summer to the Duke in Geneva study abroad program, where he took classes in the political philosophy of development and international business to develop his analytical skills.

After Duke, Wimberley wants to work with the International Monetary Fund and learn how to move money more effectively to serve people. He said that money is not always effectively used, even by the United Nations, and he wants to tackle that problem.