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Forage Center News

Forage Center Exercise Tests Students’ Abilities to Deal with Humanitarian Need

5/8/23, 4:00 PM

Graduate Students, Volunteers, Forage Center Staff Comfort Zones Challenged

Souleymane Abdoulaye Diori realized he was in trouble when he stopped for breakfast at a Dunkin Donuts before arriving at the Forage Center training site. “That’s not your visa application,” pointed out another student attending the program when he pulled out a document to show her. He needed a completed visa application to enter Costero, and he hadn’t done it in advance. Would he be allowed entry by the  Costeran National Police Service? His country director warned him that having the necessary documents completed in advance was critical to entering Costero.

Such was the start of the Forage Center’s Coastal Promise Field Simulation for one student when 40 acres of woods and fields in Swanton, MD were transformed into the fictional country of Costero over April 21-23, 2023, land experiencing serious wildfires, a simmering political and ethnic conflict, and seeing massive numbers of internally displaced persons seeking safety. Souleymane, as a member of the Forage Corps, was deployed to respond to the crisis and things were not starting off well for him.

During the field simulation, master’s degree students from the Carter School at George Mason University and the School of International Service at American University role played as members of an international non-governmental organization deployed to assess conditions; respond to the needs of internally displaced persons; and negotiate with government officials, aid groups, and local leaders.

Victor Garcia-Lara reflected that “the exercise really put my knowledge and skills to the test. I feel like I understand the importance of teamwork, self-awareness, and humanitarianism on a whole new level.” Meron Derseh “would recommend this program to anyone that wants to go into humanitarian aid work." And Naomi Davis believed the exercise “to be the most impactful experience of her master's degree.”

Not only did this program provide an opportunity for graduate students, but students from Allegany College of Maryland (ACM) in Cumberland volunteered as internally displaced persons to experience what it would be like to be someone fleeing a natural disaster and conflict. The community college students also learned about international humanitarian practices. The students were accompanied to the exercise by professor Diane McMahon who teaches sociology at ACM.

Jordan Cutter, an ACM student looking to start in its nursing program, played the role of an erratic, stressed and verbal character, different from his natural self. He reflected that playing this character “showed me that some of the peace workers and humanitarians were not exactly prepared to handle someone in… emotional distress.”

The fictional scenario of Costero provided a safe space for students to test their personal endurance and build skills, both technical and people based. They were challenged by uncooperative officials, and in particular, demanding and exacting Costeran border police who inspected their personal effects before they entered the country. Though the border police were not pleased Souleymane did not have his visa application, they allowed him into the country on a temporary basis until his country director could clear the matter up.

Prior to starting the program, the graduate students were required to learn about Costero, its history, demographics, and the current crisis. They needed to recognize the neutral role of the Forage Corps. During the simulation they were often challenged by role players to violate their neutrality.

After the simulation, students engaged in debriefing where they considered the impact of the experience including their interest in continuing in the humanitarian field. They also talked with Zenebe Gebremedhin, an aid professional for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), currently working on the Tigray/Ethiopia conflict.

The Forage Center is appreciative of the support from Garrett County, MD local businesses including Brenda’s Pizzeria, Shop N’ Save Fresh, Walmart, and Lowe’s. St. John’s Lutheran Church continues to generously allow the Forage Center to use its church basement. Suresh and Inge Choudhary own the property that the exercise takes place on for which the Forage Center is grateful.

The Forage Center acknowledges that their training site was once the traditional home of the Massawomeck and other Indigenous People and 10% of net revenue from programs held on this land are donated to Native American Rights Fund.

For more information on future simulations, please contact The Forage Center expects to hold its next field simulation in Spring 2024, but also is available to hold exercises at academic institutions and other locations.

Photo: 2023 Coastal Promise participants at the Swanton, Maryland field site.


About the Forage Center: The Forage Center, a 501c3 not-for-profit entity, provides educational opportunities and experiential-based training for students, educators, and professionals working in peacebuilding and humanitarian environments. For more information, visit

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