What if it was my son?

I haven’t written here in a while because I have had too much to say…and no idea how to say it.  Two weeks ago I was in Gulu in northern Uganda visiting ex-child-soldiers in a World Vision center.  These are young men who escaped from the Lord’s Resistance Army in the last few months and made their way back to Uganda from Congo.

Hearing their stories was heartbreaking.  I have heard and read many similar stories, but it was different hearing it directly from the boys who were involved.  Seeing their scars made it all the more real.  One young man, who had been in captivity for almost 15 years, showed where he had been shot through the back when he was 9 years old.  The scar on his belly from the exit wound was massive.  Nine years old.

One thought has been running through my head ever since.  What if it was my son?

Of course my son, at only 4 years old, would not have been useful to the rebels.  He would have been killed on the spot when the LRA came to raid the village.

I believe that many of us in the West put an emotional distance between ourselves and conflicts like this around the world.  We read statistics about child deaths and read about child soldiers in remote places, but we try to make it seem not so bad.  “They are used to it ‘over there.’”  “They have a lot of children because some of them will likely die, so parents ‘over there’ don’t get as attached to their kids.”  It isn’t that we believe these things, it’s just that we can’t allow ourselves to enter the pain.

Ever since meeting these boys in Gulu, I’ve been forcing myself to imagine it.  To explore the question of “what if it was my son?”  I hate every minute of it, and I can only do it for a few minutes at a time before I have to stop.  I try to imagine those last few minutes of seeing him taken away from me with nothing I can do about it – my ultimate responsibility of protecting my son taken out of my reach.  Then the terrible time of knowing he is out there, somewhere, experiencing all the things I have heard about but never wanted to imagine.  Young, scared, and alone.

Tens of thousands of children around the world are taken from their parents every year, whether to be used as soldiers, sex slaves or worse, and the grief those parents feel must be excruciating.  Because we are all parents, because we are all human, I feel like I owe it to them to feel the pain, even if only for a few minutes at a time and even if it is only a shadow of what they feel.  I know how lucky I am.  When I come back from the depths, I get to hold my son and feel the relief wash over me.  They don’t.

There is a lot we can do to fight against this problem.  We can encourage our government to stop supporting regimes like the one in Somalia that uses child soldiers.  We can research the sources of our clothes and other products to make sure they aren’t the products of child slavery.  We can stop visiting the red-light districts in Thailand or Cambodia “just out of curiosity.”  We can inform others that this issue is real, and that child slavery is happening in nearly every country around the world (yes, even in the United States thousands of adults and children are sold into slavery every year).

At the very least, when we hear or read about these issues, we can stop and take a moment to really feel deeply how terrible this crime is for everybody involved.   It is nice to be insulated from the horrors happening in the world, but sometimes it is more important to try to feel what the real people behind the news reports are living through.  Because if we deeply feel it, we are more likely to do something about it.

Learn more:

http://www.warchild.org/index.html

http://www.childtrafficking.com/

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4038249/

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

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5 Responses to What if it was my son?

  1. Cheryl F says:

    As your mother, and as the grandmother of two amazing grandsons, this is too horrible to contemplate! I can’t help but wonder what is missing in a person who can do this to another human being, especially a child. The neverending question remains: How do we effectively break the cycle and raise children for whom this kind of violence and hatred is unacceptable? Certainly love and a sustainable liveliehood are critical, but violence and hatred seem to continue even where a child is loved and there is sufficient food, clothing, and shelter. Do we have a naturally violent part to our human nature? Probably, as part of our DNA for survival through the millenia. But do we still need this or is it now counterproductive to the development of the human race? Do we need for evolution to catch up? But how will that happen if violence continues to be successful in so many ways? Just some dreary thoughts for a Monday morning.

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  3. Mark,
    I just finished Kristof and Wudun’s new book Half the Sky. These moral issues are heartbreaking and hard to read about. But human rights violation’s are happening all over the world. Not just developing nations.
    Chris

  4. lesleymarino says:

    Hi Mark,

    I stumbled across your blog today – very interesting stuff – and I really appreciate this particular post. I visited Uganda this past February with a Canadian water charity called the Ryan’s Well Foundation (www.ryanswell.ca). I was volunteering my time and talent as a photographer to document the work they do, specifically in the Lira District and the Rukungiri District in the southwest.

    While I didn’t hear too many first-hand stories when I was in the north, since this wasn’t the purpose of the trip, “the conflict” did come up several times as it related to water and sanitation issues around people finally feeling safe enough to leave the IDP camps and return to their villages.

    A few weeks after I returned, I read a book I found in the Kampala airport called “Aboke Girls: Children Abducted in Northern Uganda” by Els De Temmerman. I think it was the hardest book I’ve ever read, but I was so compelled to keep reading. Although I don’t have children of my own, I understand what you mean about forcing yourself to imagine the pain of seeing your son taken away from you. While I was reading, I forced myself to imagine I was one of the girls in the book, taken from my school, forced to do horrible things and have horrible things done to me.

    When I finished the book, I couldn’t get the stories out of my mind – I kept googling, reading, researching, downloading human rights watch reports, etc. It’s terrible to think how many atrocious acts are committed all around the world and how little media attention they receive.

    Thank you for making me reflect on this again.
    lesley

    http://lesleymarino.wordpress.com/category/uganda/

    • Mark Jordahl says:

      Thanks for writing, Lesley. I have heard great things about the work of Ryan’s Well. My wife’s organization, BeadforLife (www.beadforlife.org) has started doing work with a cooperative of women outside of Lira who collect shea nuts. When you start to ask women about their stories, it is horrific to realize that nearly everybody in that area was directly affected by the conflict in some way, and to realize the deep trauma that just needs to be pushed beneath the surface because there are no services to help them process it.

      It is great that you have continued to educate yourself about the issues after your visit. One of the things people in the north need is to have people like you out in the world who can be informed and passionate advocates for them.

      Thanks again, and I’ll be checking out your blog.

      Mark D. Jordahl Conservation Concepts 256 775 295 126 Blog: http://conserveuganda.wordpress.com Website: http://www.ConservationConcepts.net

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