GATHER Alumni Focus on Child Soldiers, Mitigating Trauma

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By Jimmie Briggs
Community Learning and Collaboration

On August 6, Global GATHER alumni Lissette Mateus from Colombia, and Diana Alaroker and Geoffrey Omony from Uganda engaged in an online video conversation about child soldiers and war-affected children for their peers among the inaugural Gather Fellow cohort. They were joined by Theresa Betancourt, a Boston College professor who’s been performing a longitudinal, intergenerational study of former child soldiers in Sierra Leone.

GATHER Global Fellows Geoffrey Omony and Lissette Mateus Roa preparing to travel to Kitgum, Uganda to lead a training on Forgiveness and Reconciliation.

The hour-long conversation included reflections and questions from GATHER alumni Jeff Waringa from Kenya, Alexander Gwanwalla from Cameroon, and Emma Rutikanga from Rwanda, who shared their experiential knowledge as well as shared challenges.

Lissette, the co-founder and visionary behind Serendipia, spoke to everyone on the video call about the challenges which she faces supporting de-mobilized female fighters as well as how she helps train communities in the “ESPERE” model for reconciliation and healing. From Gulu in northern Uganda, Diana and Geoffrey highlighted their concerns regarding the stigma which make it difficult for former child soldiers of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) to successfully integrate into civilian life. Employment and housing demands often force young people into homelessness or extreme poverty, but YOLRED is uniquely positioned to address the lives of former child soldiers in northern Uganda as an organization created by ex-combatants such as Geoffrey, who spoke movingly about the impact of his experiences.

GATHER Global Fellow Lissette Mateus Roa leads a training on Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Gulu, Uganda with the Youth Leaders for Restoration and Development.

Theresa Betancourt directs the Research Program on Children and Adversity at Boston College, having formerly worked for international non-profit organizations such as the International Rescue Committee in places such as Uganda, Bosnia and Sierra Leone. She and her team of students in the college’s School of Social Work are undertaking research projects in countries throughout the world, including several in which GATHER Fellows are the principal organizations. Dr. Betancourt emphasized the need to understand and mitigate intergenerational trauma, especially when conflicts unfold over decades, or post-conflict mental health systems are not developed.

Following the video conversation, several Gather Fellows were connected with Dr. Betancourt ‘s program to continue the conversation and collaboration.

The full video of the webinar can be viewed here:

 

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