Child Soldiers Project
Virtue Foundation Demobilizes, Rehabilitates, and Reintegrates Child Soldiers while Bringing Reality of Child Soldiers to Junior High and High School Classrooms in the U.S.
An estimated 300,000 children under the age of 18, some as young as seven, are currently serving as child soldiers in 30 different conflicts around the world, spanning from Asia and Africa to Latin America and Europe. Routinely kidnapped from their homes, these children are subject to violent treatment and reprehensible conditions before being sent to the frontlines to commit murder and rape against enemy soldiers, civilians, and even members of their own family. Female child soldiers in particular are raped and sexually exploited by their superiors or fellow combatants, contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases while becoming pregnant in their early teenage years. Child soldiers are also given a variety of addictive drugs to blunt the psychological and physical trauma of training and combat.
In response, the Virtue Foundation has launched the “Child Soldiers Project” (CSI), which forges partnerships with local NGOs in Africa to promote the demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration of child soldiers and provide medical assistance to child soldiers infected with HIV.
At the same time, Virtue Foundation is organizing lectures throughout the United States, whereby representatives of the Foundation team with local high school students to travel to select junior high and high schools to educate students about this issue and screen a documentary that sheds light on the plight of child soldiers and what can be done to help them. In the coming months, the Foundation will be traveling to schools in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C. By raising awareness of this important subject and leading informed discussions in the classroom about this ongoing problem, students will acquire a better sense of global understanding, empathy, and social responsibility.
On April 12, 2007, Virtue Foundation co-sponsored the Children’s Rights Conference at Columbia University entitled, “Children’s Rights to Protection Realized: Best Practices and Lessons Learned.” The conference included panels on child labor and trafficking, child abuse and violence against children, and children in emergencies. Panelists, including Karin Lundgren, Chief of Child Protection at UNICEF, spoke on current themes in child protection such as research and reporting, advocacy, policy and service provision. In addition, Virtue Foundation recently worked with Dr. Nonkulie Dladla, a physician and Fellow in Clinical Epidemiology and Health Services Research at Weill Cornell Medical Center, to present “The Child Soldiers Project: the HIV Crisis in a Vulnerable Population” at Weill Cornell Medical Center’s David Rogers Health Colloquium.
Virtue Foundation also recently took part in the Youth Summit at the United Nations where high school students around the country, all participants in the Institute for Civic Leadership, a non-profit organization dedicated to preparing the next generation to become active and engaged citizens in their local and global communities, addressed a wide array of human right issues, including the child soldier crisis. The student representatives from the Dwight School in Manhattan won first prize at the Youth Summit for their work in cooperation with the Foundation in educating other students about, and empowering them to take action against, the use of child soldiers.
Virtue Foundation has also collaborated with actress Anne Hathaway to produce a short documentary on the subject of child soldiers. The Foundation also enlisted the help of CNN Anchor Soledad O’Brien and Vice President of Avon Kim Azzarelli to participate in Peace Week at New York’s Friends Seminary High School, where they discussed the plight of child soldiers following a screening of the Anne Hathaway documentary.
In addition to learning about the abuse and treatment of child soldiers, high school students are provided a unique opportunity through this project to actively participate in reintegrating a former child soldier in Africa by helping to fund his or her education and treatment. For only $100.00, a former child soldier can complete an entire year of primary education; $200.00 would fund a full year of secondary education. Thanks to the overwhelming generosity of both students and individual donors, to date 80 children have been given a second chance to recapture their childhoods and be reintegrated into a normal and functional community.
Virtue Foundation has also interviewed and worked with Senator Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire of Canada to produce a documentary featuring groundbreaking footage entitled “Kadogo: The Little Ones.” The documentary addresses the multifaceted problem of child soldiers, particularly the long-term psychological, physical, and social stigma these children are forced to endure. It has been screened at the United Nations as well as other national and international media outlets to raise public awareness about this issue.
The international community must unite and work together if we are to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers worldwide, secure their demobilization from armed conflicts, and ensure their rehabilitation and reintegration into society as healthy and normal children. We urge you to continue the immense generosity you have shown thus far so that we may benefit as many children as possible through the CSI.