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A WPDI young woman leader sends a video message to the international community, urging world leaders to increase the protection of children from involvement in armed conflict

On 21 February 2018, Laguti Irene Lutwala, a young woman trained and mentored by WPDI, shared her experience as former child soldier and her commitment to peace at an international conference held in New York on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

Irene was invited to record a short video message portraying her story for the participants in a conference held at the UN Headquarters in New York to celebrate the 18th anniversary of the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC). By having Irene testify at this high-level event, the organizers of the event, the UN Missions of Belgium, Canada, Colombia, France and Sierra Leone, UNICEF and Child Soldiers International, intend to document how important and relevant the Protocol is in its calling upon governments to strengthen further the Convention on the Rights of the Child by increasing the protection of children from involvement in armed conflict.

Irene is the kind of story that prompted the adoption of the Protocol in the first place. She was abducted by the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) in 2003, a few weeks from taking her Primary Leaving Examinations. In her video, she explains that her captivity lasted a week before she was rescued by the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces – but that it marked her for the rest of her life. It was a psychologically, physically and emotionally damaging experience. She was forced to do things which she still believes shouldn’t have done. She did them because she was scared, because she was afraid to die.

This is the message behind the Protocol, that no child should ever have to experience such traumas.

Taking a step further, Irene’s video message also bears on the need to address these traumas and their consequences on the psychological and social lives of these children whose childhood has been stolen and who are often rejected from their communities.

As it turned out, indeed, Irene took opportunity of our launching in March 2017 of a new branch of our flagship program, the Youth Peacemaker Network (YPN) in her area, the Acholi subregion, to fulfill her ambition to serve her community by helping vulnerable youth. Upon joining us and 32 other youth - most of them with similar stories as hers - she took an intensive series of trainings totaling more than 200 hours in a unique mix of ICTs, peacebuilding, entrepreneurship, and life skills. She graduated last December and will now go back into her community where she will in turn enroll and train another cadre of local youth. With them, she will promote lasting peace and sustainable development through educational and income-generating projects.

In describing her journey from the suffering she endured during her association with the LRA to the transformative work she is doing today as a youth peacemaker with WPDI, Irene demonstrates that helping her community heal and move forward is a form of healing in itself. This is the main philosophy behind our action with children and youth from conflict-affected places, namely that they should not just be considered as victims or perpetrators of violence but also as partners whom can be mobilized to promote peace and reconciliation in their communities.