#WarHasLimits campaign shows plight of child soldiers

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April 15, 2014

By Matt Hawkins

Bradley students explored abuse of child soldiers through a March simulation organized by a team studying international humanitarian law.  The simulation was part of a yearlong project organized by the Red Cross.

The #WarHasLimits awareness campaign put visitors in the middle of a child soldier recruitment scenario and told stories of youth affected by combat through graphic videos, photos and written comments. More than 180 people walked through the simulation, which ran March 28-29.

Dr. Jeanie Bukowski ’86, who with Nicole Meyer served as faculty advisor of the IHL team this year, said typical student reactions focused on the graphic portrayals of armed youth.

“All had a haunting feeling to them, an unfixable sadness,” wrote a student in Bukowski’s international studies class. “Children should not even have to witness, let alone participate, in war. Not only does it go against international law, it goes against everything that is right in this world.”

Group discussions focused on IHL’s role in addressing the issue.

“Even though we’re miles away, we can raise awareness,” said organizer Vickie Berkow ‘14. “From there, those interested can find ways to get involved through the Red Cross or other organizations.”

The campaign, which capped the year of IHL research, positively impacted organizers as much as visitors.

“I didn’t know much about conflicts happening overseas involving child soldiers, let alone the laws that are supposed to be enforced,” Berkow said. “I’ve learned so much from this experience and all I want to do now is educate others, too.”

Berkow and fellow students Eileen Prescott, Casmeer Reyes and Grecia Ocampo served as the campaign’s team leaders and worked with Red Cross IHL instructor Dr. Bob Wiltz ’70 throughout the year to explore issues and plan several related events. They recruited and trained 14 additional Bradley students to serve on the very active team in planning and promoting these events.

Team leaders Ocampo, Prescott, and Reyes were joined by Team Members Joshua Hatler, ’17 and Olivia Hollis ’16 in presenting research on child soldiers and IHL, as well as plans for the awareness campaign, to the regional Red Cross board of directors. Additionally, Prescott and Reyes presented an academic paper, “Girls, Human Security, and the Reintegration of Child Soldiers: A Re-Evaluation of Strategies,” at the April Joint Area Centers Symposium at the University of Illinois. The paper also was presented at Bradley.

The IHL campaign will be entered in a competition with 28 teams around the country that will be judged by staff in the International Services Department of the American Red Cross. Five winning teams will be invited to Washington, D.C., for a three-day IHL youth leadership summit in June.