Sunday, November 28, 2010

When Lost Boys Grow Up

On January 9th, 2011, Southern Sudan will vote in a referendum to decide if they will split from the north and form their own country. This will not only slightly remap the African continent, but also draw to a close a 50-year liberation struggle in which the Christian south mostly fought against the Arab north. One of the consequences of this long conflict were the Lost Boys of Sudan, more than 27,000 boys of Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were displaced and/or orphaned during the Sudanese Civil War. About 4,000 were resettled in the United States.

Jeffrey Gettleman's article in this weekend's New York Times chronicle's one Lost Boy's - Joseph Gatyoung Khan - homecoming to his village to participate in the Southern Sudan referendum. After leaving his village at the age of 8, Khan was settled in the United States, working his way from the midnight shift at a casino to a university education at the University of Iowa. He hasn't seen his parents in over 20 years. The following video from The New York Times, shows Khan returning to his village and the mixed emotions he feels upon his arrival.

What I find most interesting is when he says that the world doesn't need him, but his village does need him. I wonder what Khan will be able to do for his village if, indeed, he decides to stay. There are so many valuable human resources that leave villages like Khan's because of war and conflict and poverty. Imagine what great things they can do once they return.

Khan has not yet decided if he will stay in Southern Sudan.

Friday, November 26, 2010

US Aid Continues for Countries Using Child Soldiers

Human rights groups are criticizing Barack Obama's decision to waive a prohibition on military assistance to foreign armies that employ children (under the age of 18) in their fighting ranks. Obama issued a presidential memo in October, and then signed a waiver last Monday that allows the US to continue military assistance to Chad, the Democratic republic of Congo, Sudan, and Yemen. (Burma, which receives no US military assistance, and Somalia, which already receives peacekeeping assistance not covered by the law, are also on the list.) The US provides training and support to the countries through the International Military Education and Training fund, which provides military training and counter-terrorism programs to these countries.

In 2008, President George W. Bush signed into law the Child Soldier Prevention Act, designed to bar US military assistance to states designated by the State Department as having recruited child soldiers into their armed forces. Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN's top advocate for child soldiers, expressed her disappointment at Obama's decision, saying that this is a step backward. The White House argued,

"The decision to waive prohibition of military assistance to countries that use child soldiers was in the interest of national security in allowing the US to support countries that back American anti-terror policies or face fragile political transitions. It maintains that continued military assistance would actually accelerate these countries' ability to end controversial practices, including the conscription of child soldiers" (Turtle Bay, October 28th).

There are about 300,000 child soldiers across the globe. The UN is engaged in discussions about the fate of child soldiers in Chad and South Sudan, where local governments have pledged to release as many as 900 children from conscription by the end of the year. Jo Becker, from Human Rights Watch, has acknowledged that Congo and South Sudan have made previous commitments to release child soldiers that they have never honored.

The UN itself has UN peacekeepers cooperating with governments and militaries that use child soldiers in Congo and Somalia. As one UN official said, "We can't get too high on the moral ground"
(Turtle Bay, October 28th).

Friday, November 19, 2010

TedxMcGill 2010: Relentless Curiosity

I know that it has been a long time since I have posted something on Dear Exile, but I wanted to write something brief today and let everyone know my intentions to write more in the future.

The subject today is my promotion of TEDxMcGill 2010 ( event on November 20 at Marché Bonsecours in the Old Port of Montreal from 1-7pm.

TEDxMcGill 2010's theme is Relentless Curiosity:

"Children have the unstoppable propensity to always be asking "Why?". The world that perceive is constantly new and they are inundated with new ideas, new objects, and new people. Child-like curiosity is at the heart of an enjoyable learning experience. Curiosity, and especially a relentless pursuit guided by curiosity, is also a quality of passionately engaged people. This year, TEDxMcGill aims to share in the energy of that pursuit. We are asking our speakers, our attendees, and our extended community to adopt a relentless curiosity and pursue the answers to the child-like "why". We aim to bring together a community diverse in knowledge, yet unique in their passion for it."

My 10-minute talk will focus on how important a “sense of place” is for children affected by war. I will speak about my work in Chechnya, northern Uganda, and then focus on my most recent work with Palestinian youth, using maps and narrative to illustrate sense of place. I will post the talk here after it is complete. But in the meantime, you can go to the TedxMcGill website to see a live stream of the event.

All of my fellow speakers are quite impressive, and I am honored to be able to present my ideas among such interesting other talks.

For more information regarding the event please see and the following article in the Montreal Gazette: .

Monday, November 15, 2010

People & Place: Social Work & the Environment

I wanted to share an on-line lecture I recently gave entitled People and Place: Social Work and the Environment to my undergraduate Social Work course, "SWRK220: History and Philosophy of Social Work" at McGill University. It examines some of the ways that social work as a profession have conceptualized environment, looks at multi-disciplinary ways that the environment has been conceptualized, and suggests that social workers can engage with the environment in their practice and beyond. Overall, the presentation considers the environment as more than just place, but as a combination of people AND place.