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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

11/27/23 pdf
November 27, 2023

Students host conference to help kids in conflict

More than 60 students and professors gathered at the Kids Worldwide in Conflict (KWIC) conference last Thursday, November 15, at the Campus Center to learn how to help children who have been subjected to war and conflict in countries around the world.

KWIC is a produced by a collaboration of student organizations at UMass Boston, including Lambda Alpha, the Anthropology Club and the Model U.N. “This is one of the most important conferences that we have on campus,” said Dr. Winston Langley, UMass Boston’s Associate Chancellor, who began the conference with a lecture about the United Nations’ role in helping children in war-torn countries.

Following Dr. Langley’s lecture, the documentary, the Invisible Children was screened. The film focuses on the methodical and nightly abduction of children in Uganda. They are as young as eight years old, and are subject to rape, beatings and starvation, and are forced to kill or take part in war crimes.

After viewing the documentary, two UMass Boston students, Denis Bogere and Robert Gakwaya, testified to living in war zones as children themselves.

“I, myself, am a child of the revolution,” said Bogere, who is from Uganda and is now a major in political science and economics at UMass Boston. “I have witnessed, I was not a participant, but I have witnessed the sin of bodies being laid out on the ground, blood washed over the street.”

Worldwide, more than 300,000 child soldiers, eighteen and younger, are being used by armed rebel groups and military forces, said Christia Panizales during her introduction to the conference.

“This is an issue that has been ignored by the international community and the U.S. government,” said Bogere. “I believe that this is one of the greatest human crises in the world.”

“Out of media, out of mind,” said Robert Gakwaya, a native of Rwanda and undergraduate senior in the chemistry department.

“The best thing you can do is keep this crisis in the media, and the second thing you can do is think about this as a humanitarian crisis, not a statistic,” said Gakwaya, “Don’t look at [child soldiers] as numbers; look at them as human beings.”

After Dr. Patrick Clarkin, professor of anthropology, lectured on the physiological and psychological effects upon children at infancy during war conflict, six panelists from local non-profit organizations spoke about ways to help children abroad as well as in the local Boston area.

The panelists included Kathleen Schneider from the Children and Emergencies Crisis Department at Save the Children; Carl Kurz, co-founder of Bikes Not Bombs; Deborah Jordan, Director of the NIVASA Foundation; Cynthia Close, President of Documentary Educational Resources; Karen Boss, Director of Programs at Boston Cares; and Timothy Anderson, President of the World Computer Exchange.

“We’d love to have your computers,” said Anderson, “We get groups of students [to] gather computers, and we ask volunteers to help with everything from fundraising to shipping the computers. We ship to post-conflict and active-conflict countries. We hope that we bring hope and new understanding to the children.”

Anderson runs the World Computer Exchange, which is a global non-profit that keeps working computers out of landfills and connects youth in developing countries to modern technology.

“I encourage you to get involved in a teen’s life, speak up and be a support,” said Kurz from Bikes not Bombs, an organization that helps distribute bicycles in war torn countries such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti.

The impact of the conference is already motivating students to begin their own initiatives at UMass Boston and beyond.

“It doesn’t end here,” said Eric Heller, president of the Anthropology Club.

KWIC is also collaborating within their groups to initiate a computer recycling program, a bicycling drive, documentary screenings and additional conferences on campus at UMass Boston, said Heller.

“We’re also going to take this show out on the road,” said Heller after the conference, “so that we can reach people outside the UMass community.”

Already, KWIC has been invited to Everett High School in Everett, MA, to host a similar conference about child soldiers.

“The object of the conference is really to learn and then spread the word,” said Panizales during an interview after the conference. “One of the downfalls of a lecture like this is that people might loose sleep for a couple of days and then forget. That’s why we put an emphasis at the end of the conference on ways that you can help.”

KWIC is hoping to connect students interested in getting involved with the panelists who speak at their lectures and their organizations.

“There is an unending number of opportunities right here in Boston,” said Karen Boss from Boston Cares during the lecture. “Don’t ever doubt what you can do to make an impact.”

To find out more about how to get involved, contact KWIC [email protected].