Former Sudanese soldier pumps up the volume as Peace Symposium opens
Emmanuel Jal, former Sudanese child soldier and now a recording artist, speaks at the Rotary World Peace Symposium's opening plenary session, 3 May, in Bangkok, Thailand. Rotary Images/Alyce Henson
Emmanuel Jal began his keynote speech at the 2012 Rotary World Peace Symposium in Bangkok, Thailand, not by talking about peace but rather by singing about it.
The former Sudanese child soldier, now an international peace advocate and hip-hop star, energized the morning session crowd with his song “We Want Peace.”
At the opening plenary session of the symposium, Thursday, 3 May, Jal talked about what peace means to him, the atrocities he witnessed as a child soldier, and the horrors he experienced while escaping Sudan’s bloody civil war.
“Peace means different things to people all around the world,” said Jal, a spokesman for Amnesty International, who has also worked on behalf of Save the Children, UNICEF, the World Food Programme, and Christian Aid. “Peace is when you leave home and come back safely. Peace is when you have a full stomach. For me, peace is justice, equality, and freedom for all.”
Jal lost his mother and most of his family to the civil war and became a soldier for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army at the age of nine. Three years later, he was one of 400 boys who escaped the war by walking across the desert in search of refuge. In a poem, Jal described the journey and the effects it had on him.
“I was at my lowest point as a human being during my escape,” said Jal. “I was angry. I wanted to hurt those who killed my family and friends. But I learned to forgive. It’s a constant struggle for me. But forgiveness is a path to peace.”
A British aid worker found Jal and smuggled him into Kenya. Gradually, he discovered that music was a way to share his story. He founded GUA Africa, an organization that works with individuals, families, and communities to help them overcome the effects of war and poverty.
During a breakout session later in the day, Rotary Peace Fellows discussed the successes of the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. Former classmates Erinma Bell and Charles Allen discussed the skepticism they felt at first about having much in common. Bell is a grassroots peace activist in Manchester, United Kingdom, and Allen is a police officer in Victoria, Australia.
“We’ve had rough dealings with police officers where I work,” said Bell. “But I was interested in how [Allen’s] police dealt with crime in his area.”
After discussing ways to stem violence late into the night over tea, they both concluded they did have a lot in common.
“Eventually we realized that we did the same thing: we resolved conflict resolution through coproduction of communities, government, and nongovernment agencies,” said Allen. “Our professional relationship didn’t end when we left Chulalongkorn.”
Staying in contact, they developed a leadership program for Sudanese youth who live in Greater Dandenong, one of the neighborhoods Allen’s police department patrols.
“Many of these teenagers were disengaged and lacked hope,” said Allen. “Our goal was to activate them in the community so they could see the difference they could make.”
The former classmates are also working on an initiative to help get guns off the street in Manchester, where Bell works.
“One of the more important things I took away from Rotary’s program was understanding the difference between peacekeeping, peace building, and peacemaking,” said Bell. “There is a difference, and it can be implemented in war and disaster zones, as well as localized urban conflict. I learned it’s not just talking about resolving conflict; it’s getting together and actually doing things that produce results. Rotary does a great job at highlighting that.”
The symposium, together with the Rotary Alumni Celebration, is being held 3-5 May, immediately preceding the RI Convention.
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