Thursday, December 6, 2007


It seems like it is easy to ignore the fact that these people fighting in Uganda are still children because they are performing such adult tasks. No one should be introduced to the idea or experience of killing another person. It is hard to think of a child as a victimizer, but as a fighter of war, as someone who is performing killings and murders, that it just what they are doing, and it should be stopped. I wish I had the opportunity to meet and speak with anyone who had first hand experience with the war in Uganda and the use of child soldiers. I am very appreciative of all the comments I have received, especially from my commenter from Uganda. This experience was the closest I have had to an actual cultural encounter and this encounter, while only communicating online, was what helped me most in writing my blog. I had my first flash of recognition after receiving the comment from Tumwijuke in Uganda. I realized the power that words have, especially when you are writing or talking about something that you are unfamiliar with. I now understand how important it is to dismiss my own beliefs and thoughts before engaging in something I am unfamiliar with and become open to learning about something new. People are not all so different when it comes to war and trauma. Writing this blog has been one of the most eye opening experiences because it allowed me to learn about another culture through my own mistakes, which I believe are inevitable, and expanded by encounters with others outside of my life circle.

How do we deal with this?

I recently watched a movie called 11’09’’01- September 11. Eleven directors from all around the world were asked to make a movie about September 11th in eleven minutes. I watched a scene filmed by the director from the United States and a scene filmed by the director from Iran. Both clips showed ways to deal with the catastrophic events of September 11 and the current Iraq war. Immediately I was struck by the similarities of both films. I quickly realized how the pain and suffering endured, after the events of the attack, became universal. We do not all have to be from the same place, believe in the same things, or even fight for the same rights, to experience terror and have similar reactions. I’ve begun analyzing my original title for this blog by calling it a culture of war. I am not sure if I believe that war has its’ own culture. While individuals construct war, the consequences of war happen to everyone in that culture. However, in cases where there are child soldiers, for example, like in Uganda, children are brought into war and end up being factors of war. There have been so many documentaries and films made and books written about September 11 and the Iraq war. Yet, I wonder how much information about the war in Uganda or even the horrible thought that children are being used to fight in the war is being put out in the public’s view. I hope my blog has an effect on people’s perceptions and, perhaps, create a new dialogue about the use of child soldiers. I hope it helps to stop the sad reality.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

How is society effected?

My parents always encouraged me to go to school, get an education and find a profession that interests me which will allow me to support myself when I am older. I realize now that my friends and I and other classmates are a group of young adults who are on our way to making up a new generation of professionals who will ultimately support, influence and impact our society. We rely on the lessons our parents and elders teach us as well as our education to guide us through to adulthood. Thus, a society, which raises child soldiers, must be greatly affected by the loss of such a large population of future leaders, doctors, teachers and good citizens. What can the future of a country be if they lose a generation of children? One of the most impacting results of being a child soldier is the loss “of education and work experience . . . largely because of the time away rather than violence and brutality.” It must be extremely difficult for a former child soldier, who was under the pressures and threats of death and violence, to assimilate back into a functioning society. I have heard many times that my teenage years are supposed to be considered the best years of my life. Child soldiers are missing these years, fighting when they could be learning to read, write and learn life’s lessons outside of war. The lack of education does not only affect the individual but also society and its economy. The nation’s economy ultimately suffers when “children who are in the army do not go to school, [and] do not prepare to enter the workforce, etc.” It makes me sad to think of the plight of child soldiers who not only are loosing the freedoms and joys of their youth but are also robbed of a functioning and stable adulthood.

Can child soldiers return to society?

When young adults like me and many others I know my age leave our families for a long period of time, we are accepted back into our homes, towns, and families with open arms. Whenever I come home from college, I am always greeted with love and care. However, it must be hard for child soldiers to be welcomed back home after the war or controversy ends. In many instances, they are excluded from society. In fact, where is there home? Many have lost their parents, their villages burned to the ground and their siblings, if still alive, dispersed through the country. Both I and the children fighting wars in Uganda are sent away from their homes to fulfill a responsibility. In my case, it is a voluntary leaving. In the case of a child soldier, it is usually forced. I also do not experience the traumas of war and combat when I am away at college. It is very different to grow up in a situation when you have to live away from home and you must watch your parents get hurt, do things against your will, and not be able to rebel or challenge authority. Of course, the values, morals and lessons that parents teach their children must be similar all around the world. All parents must teach their children not to talk back to authority figures. However, I do not face the same repercussions and I am not under the same fear and threat as child soldiers are when they wish to speak against authority. Thus, it becomes harder for child soldiers to come back into society after fighting in war because of these limitations. They do not have the opportunity to be nurtured, educated, or well fed while in guerilla camps. When students go off to college, they come back to the society that they left, with more knowledge and experience. But, when child soldiers return to their societies, they come back knowing only what to do and what not to do in a fighting environment. However, the cause to integrate child soldiers back into society has not been lost forever. There are some that have been able to become influential members of society. Ishmael Beah is a former child soldier who was kidnapped at the age of 12 by Sierra Leone’s national army and was forced to fight in the rebel attacks. Now at age 26, Beah has been “named an ambassador for the U.N. children’s agency . . . vowing to be an advocate for children worldwide, not just in African war zones.” He has also written a memoir detailing his “remorse over the war and how he eventually found support from a UNICEF rehabilitation program and from a new adoptive family in the United States.” The future of a child soldier depends greatly on whether or not the society that sent him or her away receives them back openly and does not shun them away.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My Real Cross-Cultural Encounter

My expectations for writing this blog were to learn about a culture of war and the history of child soldiers. I had no anticipation of hearing from someone who would respond to my blog. I always knew my blog would be in a public domain but I never realized what effect posting your own thoughts in public could have on others. While I expected to receive comments from my classmates, I was astonished that someone from Uganda, the place I was studying, read and commented on my blog would ever read it. For me, this became a real cross-cultural encounter. It gave me an opportunity, whether my facts were right or not, to have an exchange with someone who could intimately relate to the topic and made the issue more personal. The initial point of my blog was not to just tell a story, but to get a response and encounter people who could teach me more about my subject. While I still have not spoken to or met a child soldier, this encounter got me to rethink and expand my facts and beliefs. It forced me to see whether or not my western Caucasian background, my views and attitudes towards the information I gathered, were accurate or slandered. The importance to me was not so much about what I was writing in my blog, as much as putting something out in the public view to form a dialogue and come in contact with people who had personal experience. I am much more aware of what and how I write now as I am certain people, not just close to me, but all around the world, could be reading my thoughts and information.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Child's Story

"Poyo too pe rweny. " This is a common saying among the Acholi people of Uganda that translates to mean, "Death is a scar that never heals. " No culture is unfamiliar with the concept of death. Almost all people have experience the death of a parent, grandparent, sibling, child, friend, relative, even perhaps a pet. The idea and image of death changes when you yourself are committing the crime against your will. When people speak of an incident that they are uncomfortable with, they often try to dissociate themselves from the experience either by forgetting it or showing no emotional connection.
One girl, Sharon, 13 at the time, retells her experience of being abducted by the rebel army. “I was abducted while my mother and I were going to the field . . . . One of the other abducted girls tried to escape but she was caught. The rebels told us that she had tried to escape and must be killed. They made the new children kill her. They told us that if we escaped, they would kill our families. They made us walk for a week . . . . Some of the smaller children could not keep up, as we were walking so far without resting, and they were killed . . . . Some of the children died of hunger. I felt lifeless seeing so many children dying and being killed. I thought I would be killed.”
Children who are fighting in the armies and committing crimes unwillingly are facing tragedy day after day and thus when they retell stories about what they have experienced as soldiers, they often appear numb to the trauma. After experiencing such fear and tragedy, reality becomes blurred and distorted.

Effects of war on children

Imagine a life where you are accustomed to seeing tragedy at any moment of the day. Children who are exposed to war are becoming desensitized to massacres and deaths. This lack of emotion makes the children more vulnerable to being influenced into carrying out the goals of the rebel armies. Many times children are forced to commit violence on their own countrymen or families. Thus, children become stigmatized to witnessing and committing violence. When children are abducted or forced into serving the rebel armies they are often made to act as spies, serve in the front lines, partake in suicide attacks, or hold equipment. Many armies are even obtaining lighter tools so they are easier for children to carry. In Uganda, a third or more of the child soldiers are young girls. Girls are not only forced to fight in the army but they are also raped, forced to become sex slaves and the wives of the military commanders. The impact that war has on children is life altering and will remain with them forever. Aside from the fact that these children are extremely young, they are ultimately denied a childhood. During war, societies decline and weaken, thus children are left with no schooling, sometimes no families and therefore their only source of mentors or an education is through the army. The only lessons they learn concern mass murders of their families and friends and the neccessity of killing others in order to save themselves from their own deaths. War does not only have an emotional impact on children but it also affects their health and wellbeing. Exposured to the army and the poor living conditions leads to severe wounds, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and drug addictions. The most crucial recommendations to help children recover from the effects of the war and violence are education, health care, rehabilitation, and government interference.