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Wide Angle: Growing Up Global

Arts and Culture:
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Portraits of Children and War

The United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict recently released the following numbers.

In the past decade:

  • 2 million children have been killed in conflict situations
  • Over 1 million have been made orphans
  • Over 6 million have been seriously injured or permanently disabled
  • Over 10 million have been left with grave psychological trauma
At the present moment:
  • There are over 20 million children displaced by war
  • Some 300,000 young persons under the age of 18 are currently being exploited as child soldiers around the world
  • Approximately 800 children are killed or maimed by landmines every month
Last year innovative theater director Ping Chong joined with the Center for Multicultural Human Services to create "Children Of War," a new multi-disciplinary theater work based on the personal testimonies of a diverse group of young people who have experienced war and domestic trauma. The piece evolved through discussions between Ping Chong and the participants.

"Children Of War" is part of Ping Chong's "Undesirable Elements" series which explores history, culture, and ethnicity's effects on individuals and their communities.

The participants in "Children of War" range in age from 12 to 19 and come from El Salvador, Somalia, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, and Kurdistan. Learn more about their worlds and read their words below.

Fatu Sankoh
Fatu Sankoh, Sierra Leone

Fatu Sankoh arrived in the United States in 2000 from Sierra Leone. That former British colony, which gained independence in 1961, has been the scene of civil war for more than a decade. As many as 50,000 people died and many thousands more were horribly mutilated, raped or tortured during the fighting . Sierra Leone's brutal war was in part financed by the sale of what have come to be known as "Conflict Diamonds." A little over a year ago a peace declaration brokered by the United Nations was signed.

In "Children of War," Fatu describes the tactics of killers, often children themselves. The young soldiers used amputation as a form of punishment. Fatu also witnessed the death of a close friend:

I was shaking. And I just leave the -- the water and everything and splash on the ground. I was waiting like an hour. Everything is clear at night. I wasn't sure that Abu is really, really dead. Cause the blood was in my hand, my clothes, even my face is splashed. I was like move over, I need some space.

Although a peace treaty has been signed Sierra Leone is still suffering. As preparation for war crimes trials new reports are surfacing about the role of the illicit diamond trade and the use of rape as a tool of war.

Dereen Pasha
Dereen Pasha, Kurdistan

Dereen Pasha arrived in the United States in 1996. The area known as Kurdistan encompasses parts of six nations: Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Kurds compose the largest minority without a country in the Middle East. The Kurds of Northern Iraq are much in the news — viewed as a potential player in opposition to Saddam Hussein. Dereen's father, a member of the Kurdish opposition in Iraq, was assassinated when Dereen was just five. Dereen was born January 17th, 1987, two hours before Hussein dropped a bomb on his city.

Dereen reflects on what "Children of War" might teach others his age:

I hope it will affect them by listening to other people's stories and knowing that deep down -- knowing that deep down, every day when we go to school, we show a happy face to school. Deep down, there's a lot of sadness that we carry around and we have to share it one day-- one day at a time. Or one day we just have to share it all and they just have to listen because even though we show happy faces, there's a lot of sadness in us.

Awa Nur, Somalia
Awa Nur, Somalia

Awa Nur arrived in the United States in 1995. That was two years after a battle in Somalia's capitol, Mogadishu, left 18 American service people dead and over eighty wounded. The American troops were in Somalia on a humanitarian mission to restore order and safeguard food supplies before the arrival of a UN peacekeeping force. There had been no effective government in the country for several years. The death of the Americans called such humanitarian missions into question and its outcome is still a matter of much debate. The UN force itself left Somalia in 1995, declaring the mission a failure.

Last fall a peace conference began to address Somalia's continuing problems. There is a cease fire in effect, but there are still 22 warring factions in the country.

Here, in a scene from "Children of War," Awa describes her experience as a refugee from civil war:

We learn that Ali Mire, my grandfather, is alive in a refugee camp in Kenya. When we arrive we move from one refugee camp to another. Tensions rise between the refugees and the Kenyans. One day a fight breaks out between a Kenyan and a Somalian. In revenge the Kenyans burn our refugee camp down. The fire spreads so quickly that our precious family photo album is destroyed. We lose everything in the fire. We have become undesirable elements in Kenya.
Abdul Hakeem Paigir, Afghanistan
Abdul Hakeem Paigir, Afghanistan

Abdul Hakeem Paigir arrived in the United Sates in 2001 from Pakistan, where his family had sought refugee from conflict in Afghanistan. Already out of Afghanistan when the bombing began, Abdul recalls seeing his village on television — a hole where the house his father built had stood. "My dad was crying and my dad has nightmares now, too. And my dad has a song from [our] country when every time they put [it on], my dad and my mom cry."

Abdul talked about how taking part in "Children of War," helped him deal with such traumas:

If you tell something to the people, like I have the chance right now. I'm going to tell a big theater. Maybe some people will believe me... And like if you tell somebody something, it's in your heart. When you tell somebody, it comes out. Like-- it's like a box and you put it on and you lock it. It's inside and it stays inside and it makes your heart like feel bad, cry. If you tell somebody, it makes you a little feel good, like it comes out.
Yarvin Cuchilla, El Salvador
Yarvin Cuchilla, El Salvador

Although Yarvin Cuchilla's personal story is one of domestic violence rather than war, her homeland was destabilized for decades by war, poverty and natural disaster. An estimated 75,000 people were killed over a period of twelve years. After the long, bloody civil war in El Salvador finally ended, the country was again laid low by a devastating earthquake. In 2002 a court in the United States found two former generals guilty of torture.

In a scene from "Children of War" Yarvin recounts the effect these years had on her family:

More than seven members of my mother's family are killed in the civil war in El Salvador. My mother wants to go to the United States. She says: 'If you work hard there you can have ANYTHING you want.'

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