The Day My Life Froze

Urban Refugees in the Humanitarian System

“I asked UNHCR for help. They told me, ‘if you don’t like it, you can go to Zaatari [Camp].’ I said: How can we live [in this city]? We can’t work, you don’t give us money. ‘You can go to Zaatari,’ they said.”
Syrian Interview Respondent, Irbid, Jordan
Quoted in Stevens, 2016

Course Details

Lessons Learned’s flagship course ‘The Day My Life Froze’: Urban Refugees in the Humanitarian System is a two-day professional development course structured around an intensive in-class educational simulation. The course re-centres the human subjects of humanitarianism in the minds of current and prospective humanitarian workers.

What will I learn?

Participants learn to map the goals and motivations of a wide range of stakeholders in humanitarian crises. You will explore the social, political, and economic dynamics which arise from the interplay between these stakeholders. The course acts as a bridge between cutting-edge academic theory, critical “red teaming” approaches, and humanitarian practice.

In completing this course, participants will be able to…

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the social and political dynamics of urban refugee response scenarios and the systems which underlie those dynamics.
  • Map motivations and goals of multiple stakeholders in urban refugee response, including those of refugees.
  • Describe and predict possible breakdowns in humanitarian response by discussing past examples.
  • Critically but constructively engage with humanitarian work in general and their own work in particular, in order to improve the quality of humanitarian intervention.
  • Communicate possible motivations and goals of people experiencing displacement, and contrast them with humanitarian assumptions.
“I attended the 2 day workshop “The Day My Life Froze: Urban Refugees in the Humanitarian System” in Ottawa in July. The simulation was excellent - I think that people from all different backgrounds - whether new to humanitarian and development work, or whether experts in the field - can learn from this experience”.
Elizabeth Dyke
PhD, Health and Social Development Consultant
“I really enjoyed the gameplay even though it was 'confusing', 'frustrating' and a bit 'stressful' but that’s exactly what I’d say it should have been – to give the players just a little taste of what refugees experience. I thought the game design was brilliant in that it very cleverly 'layered in' so many important aspects of what urban refugees would face."
Anon. Defense Analyst
Government of Canada

Who should take this course?

This course is geared towards current and prospective humanitarian workers, graduate students, government workers and other donor staff. Other interested parties are welcome to apply.

Who designed this course?

Course designer and instructor Matthew Stevens has worked with refugees and migrants globally since 2008, from downtown Cairo to the Peruvian Amazon. Most recently, he served as Country Director for an INGO in Amman, Jordan, delivering online higher education to displaced youth. 

Lessons Learned courses are built around rigorously designed educational simulations, adapted from the “IN-Simulation” methodology developed by Prof. Natasha Gill (TRACK4) and the innovative simulation-based teaching methodologies of Prof. Rex Brynen at McGill University.

Want to Know More?

If you are interested in learning more about The Day My Life Froze, or if you want to book your own session of this course, you can email the LLST Team at