From HASSAN ONYANGO in Kampala, Uganda
KAMPALA, (CAJ News) – IN a volatile region that continues suffering the prevalence of child soldiers, it is critical that stakeholders teach, train and empower the next generation of leaders to build a bright future for themselves and their countries.
It is against this background a Qatar-based nongovernmental organisation advocating for rights to education has partnered with an organisation founded by prominent African-American actor, Forest Whitaker, to equip former child soldiers and young people affected by conflict from across Uganda and South Sudan with skills in leadership, mediation and entrepreneurship.
Education Above All (EAA) Foundation, through its legal advocacy programme, Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict (PEIC), and the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI), have held a workshop at the Hope North campus in Kiryandongo, Uganda, a secondary and vocational school where many former child soldiers have found a sanctuary.
It is the place Whitaker started working with young people from conflict-affected communities, upon hearing their stories when he was working on the Last King of Scotland, the 2006 movie that earned the veteran an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of late Uganda dictator, Idi Amin.
Years after the demise of Amin’s rule in 1979 after eight years at the helm (he died in 2003), the problem of child soldiers persists in Uganda where armed groups are forcibly recruiting.
In the world’s newest country, South Sudan, which is enduring civil war, children have borne the brunt of the crisis with 17 000 of them recruited into government forces and armed groups.
Organisers said the aim of the workshop in Uganda was to train a new generation of leaders and to provide an opportunity for them to share their experiences, knowledge and expertise on human rights, entrepreneurship and the importance of education to others in their local communities.
Maleiha Malik, Professor of Law at King’s College London and Academic Advisory Director, PEIC said, “It is more important than ever that the world community work together to uphold the principle of legal accountability for grave violations of international law and defend the mandate of the International Criminal Court (ICC).”
Malik pointed out education was a human right that some children were denied because of conflict.
He said the workshop was the first of many that EAA, through its PEIC programme, was delivering with the WPDI to inspire hope within children who have lived through conflict and terrible hardship.
“Only by equipping children and young people with the knowledge they need to build a better future for themselves – and for their country – can we start to rebuild and reconstruct communities,” added Malik.
Sessions at the workshop focused on the development of new enterprises and local economic development, conflict resolution, international law, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), right to education and accountability and the role of the ICC.
Whitaker, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation and SDG Advocate for the UN, said the young people who gathered at the training had been active peace leaders for some time now through the Youth Peacemaker Network programme.
“They have already accomplished a lot for their communities,” he said.
“This (last) week is not just about teaching them things they do not know. It is also a time for us to listen to them, to learn from their stories. As they grow in confidence and experience, I feel that I receive more and more from them,” said Whitaker.
The partnership between WPDI and EAA was established in 2016 at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, four years after both organisations were founded by Whitaker and Her Highness Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser of Qatar respectively.
The Qatar monarch also established PEIC in 2009 to promote and protect the rights to education in areas affected by crisis, conflict and insecurity.
– CAJ News