|Grace Akallo from Uganda is the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda's Children.|
|Ishmael Beah from Sierra Leone is the author of Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.|
|John Kon Kelei is a former child soldier from the Sudan.|
How does a child recover after witnessing their family and friends being mutilated and slaughtered? How does a child bounce back from going days without food and shelter while simultaneously running away from men with guns, who want to exploit them? How does an eight-year-old boy or a 10-year-old girl cope after being captured by extreme militant groups?
Next month, the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University will be hosting three guests who know first hand what it is like to trade in their childhoods for AK-47s.
Ishamael Beah, best-selling author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, will be among the guests. Mr. Beah was captured at the age of 13 and was forced to serve as a child soldier for the government army of Sierra Leone.
The Centre for Foreign Policy will also welcome Grace Akallo, the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children, a chilling autobiographical account of her experience as a child soldier at the age of 15.
John Kon Kelei, a former child soldier from Sudan, will be a guest as well. Mr. Kelei is a spokesperson for War Child Holland and a postgraduate student of International and European Law in the Netherlands. Mr. Kelei is known for his charitable work and founded the organization, Cuey Machar Secondary School Foundation, which aims to build a secondary school in southern Sudan and provide a chance of an education for youth affected by ongoing violence in Sudan.
During their stay in Halifax, Mr. Beah, Ms. Akallo, and Mr. Kelei will join researchers at Dalhousie University for a two-day closed-door focus group workshop. Researchers will be interested in how the former child soldiers learned to cope with the chaos of war.
This groundbreaking discussion is the first time that former child soldiers have come together in one room to voice their opinions on how humanitarian aid organizations can improve their approach when confronted with child soldiers. Topics of discussion will range from the gender dynamics of child soldiers, to community based initiatives for prevention and rehabilitation, and policy making.
WHAT: "From Youth Affected by War to Advocates of Peace," a talk hosted in support of the Child Soldier Initiative
WHO: Former child soldiers Grace Akallo, Ishmael Beah and John Kon Kelei
WHEN: August 27, 7 to 9 p.m.
WHERE: Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, Dalhousie Arts Centre
Among the researchers is Shelly Whitman, Deputy Director for the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies. Speaking about the intended outcome of the focus group, Dr. Whitman, says that “The ultimate goal is that we don’t want it (child soldiers) to exist.” However for the time being, Dr. Whitman sees the focus group as an opportunity for researchers to learn how to harness the coping mechanisms that youth in conflict have used.
One example of a coping mechanism researchers have already found is attachment. When soldiers capture young girls, the girls will often attach themselves to commanders who are higher up in ranks as a way to avoid violence from other men in the militia.
The researchers are part of the Child Soldier Initiative (CSI). The CSI is a cross-disciplinary program lead by organizations such as, War Child Canada, Pearson Peace Keeping Centre, UNICEF, and Dalhousie University. The overall goal of the CSI is to eradicate the use of child soldiers around the world.
A public lecture called “From Youth Affected by War to Advocates of Peace: Rediscovering Youth Strength and Resilience” will feature Mr. Beah, Ms. Akallo, and Mr. Kelei speaking about their experiences as child soldiers. It takes place August 27 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. Mr. Beah and Ms. Akallo will be available for to sign books afterwards.
Tickets are $25 for students and $32.50 for general admission. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased at the Rebecca Cohn Box Office, online at www.artscentre.dal.ca
, or by phone 1-800-874-1669. All proceeds will benefit the Child Soldier Initiative