September 10, 2005
War Affected Children Conference: Day 2 Part 2
During lunch a panel entitled 2000-2005: Has Canada Lived Up to Its Promises & Potential focused on the role Canada has in leading the effort to help war affected children. A number of excellent observations and suggestions were made.
Jimmie Briggs (Writer, Goodwill Ambassador & UN Special Representative for Children & Armed Conflict) followed lunch with a very personal discussion of his coverage of the issue of child soldiers. Jimmie has been a writer on issues of youth culture in the US for a number of years, so this was his context when he went overseas. He first went to the Congo in 1996 to write a story for Life magazine. This led to additional trips to other countries and eventually led him to write a book on the issue of Child Soldiers: Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go to War. He lamented the fact that journalists, and US journalists in particular don't tell the story of children in the midst of conflicts, rather focusing on the war machinery. He has also noticed that at meetings of the World Bank and other similar organizations that the plight of the children is seldom front and centre, or even mentioned. We need to start thinking of the children, rather than diamonds and gold, as the most important natural resources of these countries. Jimmie finished his presentation by reading from his new book and giving a sense of the life of a child soldier in Columbia.
Jimmie joined a panel including Lloyd Axworthy (University of Winnipeg), Natalie Zend (CIDA), and Andy Knight (University of Alberta) on the subject of More Action, Less Agonizing: A Reappraisal of Global Policy. Lloyd started the panel off by talking about other threats to the human security of children and women besides the traditional image of armed conflict. The example he used was the drug cartels in Columbia and the impact they have on the lives of children. He also highlighted the unfortunate change in the focus of our own armed forces to mirror the show muscle philosophy of the US and how so many countries are following suit. We as Canadians need to stop this change away from peace keeping and human security and lobby our government to get back to these roots that all Canadians hold so dear. Natalie Zend talked about CIDA's efforts to develop policy and a framework to deal with the issue of war affected children. Since the 2000 Winnipeg Conference CIDA has quintupled the funding available for child protection. War affected children is one of two key areas of focus in this new framework. One of the common messages from all speakers was that we, the public, are needed more than ever, as is academia, in helping to sustain the bridge between society and the political arena. It is only if we do this that we will be able to address the issues of human security that threaten future generations.
One of the afternoon sessions, FirstHand: Testimonies & Presentations had three panelists who gave personal glimpses of life in conflict zones. Stephanie Stobbe talked about Laos and her escape from the civil war there. Her first memory of the conflict was when she was four and they used to have to go down to a shelter in the basement when the bombs fell. She also remembered their escape across the Mekong River into Thailand. The Lao refugees experienced a great deal of violence in the camps. Stephanie's family arrived in Winnipeg in the middle of winter, so experienced an abrupt change as they wondered at the snow and this strange new life. They actually lived in a house in the graveyard, which was particularly difficult given their Buddhist beliefs. They had better facilities in the refugee camps in Thailand. The parents were immediately thrust into a work life to pay their way; the children were afraid of their new day cares and surroundings. In the first six months of their arrival in Winnipeg they had moved three times and the housing never got any better. While thankful for coming to Canada, Stephanie's experience highlights some of the extreme culture shock refugees experience when coming to a new country. Stephanie highlighted the need for Canadian public policy to pay attention to the special needs of immigrant families and children and help them become contributing members of Canadian society.
Abu Boakai talked next about his experience in Liberia during the civil strife there. While only there for a short time during the conflict, his experiences are very difficult to talk about. Abu continued to get involved in Liberia while attending university in Cairo, where he was involved with the Islamic student association. On a trip back to Liberia to help work for the safety of the country he was caught by rebel groups and imprisoned. His experience of 37 days in the conflict makes it hard for him to understand how someone who had been in the same environment for the 14 years that the conflict in Liberia raged could have survived to live a normal life.
Michael Nuul Mayen finished the panel with a description of his experience in Sudan. He talked about his early years when his role was to look after the cattle. One day he heard noises in the village: the Arabs had come looking for soldiers and the village had been bombed. He ran into the jungle but found nobody left in the village when he returned to the village. The boys who were left ranged from 5-13 years old. They were forced to organize themselves and help each other. Many children died from eating poisonous fruit, preying animals, disease, drowning in the river. His tale of crossing the river from Ethiopia to Kenya was particularly harrowing: many boys died here trying to get across. They died from the bullets of soldiers, crocodiles and hippos, drowning. Michael himself pulled himself across the river by a rope, as he could not swim. Once across the river they had more challenges to survive in a land that never relented in its attempts to kill these most vulnerable of society. After having escaped this conflict and personal hardship, personal reflections like this help us to understand that 9/11 happens in Sudan every day. Michael's courage and that of his fellow Lost Boys and Girls continues to this day as they tell their stories to make the world stand up and take notice.
The Conference finished off with a wrap-up by Lloyd Axworthy and a series of suggestions for activities that will provide us with a concrete action plan and no doubt a legacy equal to that of the first Winnipeg conference on war affected children. The first set of suggestions were in the area of educational strategies, including:
- a summer institute in peace building;
- integration of the philosophies of prevention and peace across the curriculum;
- distribution of curricular materials to teachers;
- ESL courses and IT training for war affected communities;
- linking student hosts with war affected youth;
- a Centre for Healing and Humanity;
- a Centre for At Risk Youth;
- distribution of conference proceedings and video to government and other agencies.
Some additional strategies and opportunities were also suggested as an outcome of the two days:
- a website for linking members of the Diaspora community and providing tools for mobilization and action;
- a phone line for individuals to call and get information;
- a repository of the stories, writings, art and music of war affected children;
- a national summit to link the NGO community with academia and government;
- develop a resolution to support the UN's own resolution on child soldiers;
- call on the Canadian government to focus on specific conflicts like Northern Sudan.
Dr. Axworthy also announced the creation of the President's Peace Education Fund, which will help provide funding to support members of the community who are in need of help. Some additional suggestions from the audience included:
- University of Winnipeg alums provide a "buddy system" to provide support to students from conflict areas;
- the University should join with the networks that already exist in these renewed efforts to help members of the community;
- get the government to do away with the transportation levy applied to people like the Sudanese that arrived;
- allow Canadian with educational savings that are not needed for their own children to be able to give them to other students in need;
- something to "rev up the Canadian public" and draw more attention to this issue, maybe by sending our students into other Canadian communities;
- an import replacement strategy for African countries;
- ask Canadian government to permanently commit 6,000 Canadian troops to peace keeping;
- encourage Cabinet to take corporate responsibility seriously and develop policy around it;
- develop a film festival and use the arts to raise awareness of what is happening and get more people involved;
- work with the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation to communicate to the community;
- educational support to help people learn how to deal with the emotion and stress that comes from dealing with these issues.
One of the final suggestions from those gathered at the University was to go to places like southern Sudan and witness with our own eyes the conflict and the impact on children and women. Bring those images and stories back to tell the story of people who can't do it themselves. Sounds like the best suggestion of the day: get involved and help bring peace and security to a war-ravaged world.
Posted by mleggott at 5:29 PM
War Affected Children Conference: Day 2 Part 1
Olara Otunnu (Former UN Special Representative for Children & Armed Conflict) gave the keynote to start the second day of the Conference. Dr. Axworthy introduced Olara with a personal story of working together in Sierra Leone to try and free a large group of child soldiers. The passion and commitment he brought to that one set of meetings has obviously carried through to today with Olara's work with the UN and elsewhere. Olara Otunnu is an incredible speaker who obviously kept the attendees at the conference rapt with his story. That included a warm thank-you to Dr. Axworthy for his leadership and tireless efforts to move the issues of children affected by armed conflict to the front of the world stage. He reminded us we need to place equal importance on the over 250,000 children who are directly involved in conflict and the millions of children who have been and continue to be victims of war. Often this impact carries on for decades, rather than months or years. This is the modern face of war and a difference from conflicts of the past. One effort that will help overcome this abomination are the steps the UN has recently taken to identify egregious abuses of children and provide a regime of protection that will help ameliorate the impact of conflict on children. This includes:
- the public identification of governments and insurgencies that abuse the rights of children;
- a monitoring and reporting system for gathering information at the ground level which goes to international task forces which then forward that information to the Security Council as a trigger for action;
- the ability for the Security Council to request that parties named as abusing the rights of children develop a plan of action to stop;
- a working group of the Security COuncil tasked with following up on the success of these measures.
Despite these measures it is important that citizens of the world maintain pressure on the UN, governments and other agencies to ensure that the actions that result from these measures are carried out. One example cited is the genocide unfolding in Northern Uganda. As the current chair of the Human Security Network, Canada has a major role to play in making a difference in this and other conflicts. Now we have the means and the tools to help: let's do it!
Take my advice, if you ever have the opportunity to hear Olara Otunnu speak, do it: you won't forget it.
After the keynote David Northcott facilitated a panel consisting of Donna Carreiro (CBC), Ang'er Deng (Lost Boys and Girls group) and Thon Duot (Lost Boys and Girls group). Donna introduced the video that was made to highlight the story of the Lost Boys and Girls, how they came to lose their families and came to Winnipeg. We also learned that after a year in Canada they would receive an invoice from the federal government for the cost of bringing them here. In other words it wasn't very long before these suffering people had to pay again for the freedom the world owed them: many times over. It is obvious from Donna's presentation that these people moved here to escape danger and conflict only to meet bureaucracy and new challenges: to be lost once again. One thing we can do, and the University of Winnipeg has done, is provide the men and women from Sudan with the ability to get an education and help make their way in this new place. But there is much more we can and need to do.
Ang'er followed Donna with a story of their experiences in coming to Winnipeg. Ang'er talked about four of the key needs her community has:
- Education Access - Education is my mother, my father, my brother, my sister, my uncle: having lost their families this is all they have to help look after themselves. They want Canadians to teach them how to fish rather than to just give them fish. This will also give them the chance to help others like them, who needed help. She also highlighted the challenges of working effectively at University when computers are such a critical component of learning and they had not seen them until they arrived here.
- Grief Counseling - Ang'er gave a moving testimony of the pain and suffering the Lost Boys and Girls experienced in their forced travels. All those in the room will be touched forever by her words.
- Housing - The archaic housing rules mean that the people who lost their families in the conflict also limit their access to appropriate housing. For example, some were recently told five of them could not share a two bedroom apartment because they were not a family. Obviously Canada needs to pay special attention to how they define family.
- Child Care - There is a disturbing lack of child care for those from the community who have children. They are forced to stay home so that they can look after their children and are then unable to make a living.>
When Ang'er finished her tale there wasn't a dry eye in the room and everyone stood to thank Ang'er for her courage and heartfelt message.
Thon talked about the origin of the term Lost Boys and how they came to come here. He then talked about additional challenges they face:
- ESL - Many of the members of the community have a great need for ESL training. This would include special consideration for class environments and an appropriate curriculum to make this task easier and speed their integration.
- Integration - Help integrating into the community is also a big need. The help of many families in Winnipeg has been important to many Lost Boys and Girls, but we can do more with this one: we can open our homes.
- Transportation - It may seem like a simple thing, but help getting around these new cities is also something they need help with.
Thon closed by saying: We did not make it to Winnipeg because we were strong, or smart, but because God saved us to be seed, to go out and tell the story of the people of Sudan.
A number of comments and questions followed and it was very clear that the people in the room were deeply affected and ready to act. Let's hope we stay touched and do what we can to help these members of our community as well as others.
Posted by mleggott at 10:47 AM
September 9, 2005
War Affected Children Conference: Morning Day 1
The University of Winnipeg is hosting War Affected Children: Two Steps Forward: Looking Back and Facing the Future, a two day event providing a forum for discussion and action around the issue of war affected children.
The morning commenced with a brief introduction from Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, President of the University of Winnipeg. Dr. Axworthy reminded those present that this conference was happening 5 years after the first international conference in Winnipeg on the same topic. While much has been done since that first conference, much remains to be done. The first plenary was called Children & War Back-grounder and provided a summary of the issues. Olara Otunnu (Former UN Special Representative for Children & Armed Conflict) provided a context with a description of war affected children and how recent developments at the UN will help overcome some of the activities in conflict zones that abuse children. Mr. Otunnu also highlighted the key role Dr. Axworthy has played in the recognition of this issue at all levels across the globe. Mark Golden followed with a compelling contrast of accounts of the murder and abuse of children by the Greeks and their contemporaries with the exploitation of children by the Australian government when refugees from Afghanistan arrived off shore. A reminder that the exploitation of children is not new and is not limited to certain countries. Sean Byrne (Mauro Centre for Peace, University of Manitoba) talked about work he has done in areas like Northern Ireland and Bosnia. Dr. Byrne was followed by Alexandre Trudeau who spoke briefly of the nature of conflict and how children get caught in the crossfire. The final panelist was Myriam Denov (University of Ottawa) who talked of her research on children in conflict zones.
The morning's second plenary, Trouble Shooters or Peace Makers? Youth & Post-Accord Peace Building, featured two presentations on what happens to youth after conflicts "end". Siobhan McEvoy (Butler University) talked about how youth create an active grassroots movement after conflict, becoming an underground peace movement that often is not recognized, even though it can have a profound impact on lasting peace. She highlighted the role of youth in conflict reproduction as well as conflict transformation. Some of her narratives were particularly powerful: voices from conflicts around the globe. She cited a number of key reasons why it makes sense to include children in the peace process, including their ability to: transform militarized identities; foster resilience; transfer vital knowledge; create human rights culture; provide practice in power sharing; create new peer interaction space. Kathy Vandergrift (World Vision Canada) highlighted the need to remember that the "requirement to prevent" needs to be just as important as the "requirement to protect". She reflected a great deal of impatience with the fact that many of the programs and special projects that are supposed to have been developed in places like Sierra Leone have to a large degree not materialized. We need to do more here. The philosophy of return, reconciliation and reintegration is a newer focus that has been making a difference. Eric Hoskins (War Child Canada) finished off the plenary by putting a face on this issue. He talked about the Amputee Camp in Sierra Leone, a horrifying image of war's impact as well as other conflicts and the often economic pressures that drive them (diamonds, cellphone components, etc.). He left us with a question: where is the public in addressing the issue of war affected children? We are needed to make sure we have the political and public will to make real progress.
Lunch was packed with students and conference attendees who lined up to listen to Alexandre Trudeau talk about his personal experiences in war zones. Before Mr. Trudeau came on, Dr. Axworthy announced that the University, in coordination with Kent Davies and his colleagues at CKUW radio, would provide free tuition to those students whose studies have been affected by the Katrina disaster. His first documentary was on the Liberian war and child soldiers, providing him with a link to the issues being discussed at the Conference. Alexandre's narrative was a heartfelt story from someone who has been witness to war and it's impact, but who still cannot imagine what it would be like to be a child in such conflict zones. He showed a clip from his documentary that helped to describe the conflict and the children of Liberia. I was struck by the phrase he heard while in Liberia: the way to get a pet lion is to kill its parents. Without parents the young lion will follow the killer to get food and stay safe. This is how the child soldiers in Liberia were "recruited" by the adult soldiers. An excellent opportunity for students and community members to hear how one person can help make a difference.
The Conference continued through the afternoon with a number of sessions:
- Barriers to Learning, Strategies for Transformation
- The Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan: The War That Never Ends
- New Directions in Literacy Education: Bridging a Gap Between War-Affected & North American Youth
- Youth Activism: A Tool of Social Conscience
Posted by mleggott at 3:42 PM