By Toan P. Do
City on a Hill Press Reporter

Dorothy Sewe was recalling the harshness of her life as a Kenyan refugee when members of her audience’s eyes began to well up with tears.

“There were tribal clashes in Kenya, where I lost my sister and her husband,” Sewe said. “They left seven children. I had my eight children and I raised their seven.”

She went on to speak of the terrifyingly poor water quality that gave one of her daughters typhoid, meningitis and malaria. She told the story of how she fled to Tanzania and then to the United States with her family of 15.

Sewe (pronounced “seh-way”) now resides in Grand Rapids, Mich. and plans to attend law school while working with the Red Cross to link African refugee families back together.

She was one of the five notable speakers present at the Children of War Symposium at College Nine’s Namaste Lounge last Friday.

Also present was Meghan Frank, a high-school senior, who organized “Operation Pen and Pencil” for her Girl Scouts silver award. The program organized the deployment of donated school supplies to Frank’s father, a member of the armed services stationed in Afghanistan. He then turned around and supplied many schools in need. Frank was a sophomore in high school when she began this project.

“It’s really easy to make a difference,” Frank said. “And that’s what I want to encourage you all to do.”

Additional speakers included Dr. Ashis Brahma, a physician who lives and works at a Darfurian refugee camp in Sudan; Michael Khambatta, a representative for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); and Marc Sommers, professor of humanitarian studies at Tufts University.

The symposium focused on the plight of African children who are forced to become child soldiers in the many conflicts of Africa. The speakers sought an end to this horrific practice.

Sommers, who has studied and worked with many of Sudan’s displaced “Lost Boys,” said that 80 percent of rebel soldiers in Africa are between the ages of 7 and 14. Children are at high risk of being forced into this lifestyle because they are “replaceable.”

“Well, what do these children under 18 do?” Sommers said. “Obviously they are frontline soldiers, but they are also terrific spies — particularly girls. Nobody would suspect a 12-year-old girl of being a spy, and that’s why they are used in that way.”

Sommers explained what other roles children are used for.

“They’re messengers, they’re sentries, they’re guards, porters, servants, sexual slaves, decoys, trainers, cooks, domestic laborers, and they lay and clear landmines,” Sommers said. “Again, if they step on one, so what? You go get another one. This is war and the children are resources.”

Yet despite all the sorrow, despair, and violence that ravage their land, an overlying theme of the symposium was that victims of war, especially children, are extremely resilient — such as Dorothy Sewe and her 15 children.

“The refugees show to me that they are the real heroes,” Brahma said. “They take it all on, and they look for solutions and for peace.”

“People ask me, ‘How can you work in Africa?’” Brahma said during his slide show.

He stopped at a picture of three smiling children.

“How can you not?” he said, pointing to the picture. “That’s the reason.”

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