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March 15: Laura Engelbrecht shares her experiences with child soldiers in Africa

Ms Engelbrecht is coming to Indianapolis as part of the Indiana Council on World Affairs Distinguished Speaker dinner. She is working on an upcoming History Channel documentary about child soldiers in Eastern Congo

When: Wednesday March 15 -- SOCIAL HOUR 5:30 PM; DINNER 6:30 PM; TALK 7:15 PM; ADJOURNMENT 8:45 PM

Where: Butler University Johnson Room-Robertson Hall

This will be a powerful and disturbing presentation. In more than 30 countries around the world, children have become direct participants in war. Denied a childhood and often subjected to horrific violence, several hundreds of thousands of children are serving as soldiers in current armed conflicts, participating in all aspects of contemporary warfare, wielding AK-47s and M-16s on the front lines of combat, serving as human mine detectors, participating in suicide missions, carrying supplies, acting as spies or lookouts, doing whatever they can to survive. Girls are also used as soldiers in many parts of the world. In addition to combat duties, girls are subject to sexual abuse and may be taken as “wives” by rebel leaders in Angola, Sierra Leone and Uganda. Because of their immaturity and lack of experience, child soldiers suffer higher casualties than their adult counterparts. Even after the conflict is over, they may be left physically disabled or psychologically traumatized. Frequently denied an education or the opportunity to learn civilian job skills, many find it difficult to re-join peaceful society. Schooled only in war, former child soldier are often drawn into crime or become easy prey for future recruitment.

Laura Engelbrecht is in the middle of trying to solve the problem of child soldiers. Born in San Jose, she spent much of her childhood overseas, including seven years in West Africa, where her parents lived and worked in rural villages in northern Guinea. After graduating from American University in December 1999, Ms Engelbrecht began working in the Secretary of State’s Operations Center, where she monitored breaking international events and gave regular briefings to the Secretary and other senior government officials during ongoing crises. Six months into her work, her team was given the Franklin Award for Outstanding Service by Secretary Madeleine Albright for their work after the USS Cole bombing and several airline hijackings. After a year, Ms Engelbrecht began traveling in advance of Secretary Albright (and then Secretary Powell) to prepare for their overseas trips.

In October 2001, Ms Engelbrecht began a two-year tour as a political officer in the U.S. Embassy in the Congo. Her portfolio was eastern Congo, and she soon became the Embassy’s primary expert on militia and rebel groups during the peace negotiations leading to a transition government and elections. Her ground-breaking investigation and reporting on human rights abuses, particularly mass rape, earned her the 2002 State Department Award for Exceptional Achievement in Human Rights and Democracy. Ms Engelbrecht suggested and helped implement several iniatives to advance the peace process in DRC and pave the way for the transition government and elections.

After returning to Washington D.C. in October 2003, she resigned from the State Department in February 2004 and began independent consulting on Africa for a variety of public and private sector clients. She has been asked to submit written testimony to Congress and participate in several State Department conferences as an expert on Congo and Great Lakes region. In June 2005, she began working as an Analyst/Trainer for the State Department’s ACOTA (Africa Contingency Operations Training Assistance) program, in which she travels with a team of former U.S. military officers to train African troops who are deploying with UN peacekeeping missions. As the only civilian on the training team, Ms Engelbrecht focuses primarily on civil-military relations and humanitarian interactions, in order to help the soldiers bridge the gap between traditional war-fighting and peacekeeping. In December 2005, she was hired as a consultant on an upcoming History Channel documentary on child soldiers, for which she will travel to eastern Congo several times in 2006. She has contributed to an online exhibit for the Holocaust Museum about eastern Congo, which features actress Angelina Jolie’s trip to Congo in 2003, and which I strongly recommend you see at http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/online/congojournal/.

For details about RSVPing for this event, please contact Kishor Kulkarni at kmKulkarni@aol.com.

Want to learn more about Africa? Here's your chance:

In addition, Sarah Archer has worked long and hard on the issue of child soldiers. Laura Engelbrecht offers some suggested readings about how to solve the problem of child soldiers.

  • Children at War” by Peter Singer
  • Innocents Lost” by Jimmie Briggs
  • Beasts of No Nation” by Uzodinma Iweala (this is a newly-published novel written from the perspective of a child soldier, written by a Nigerian Harvard grad who wasn’t a child soldier but did an excellent job of capturing a plausible tone and writing a good fictional account that could very well be true)

In terms of websites and organizations, here are a couple Laura recommends:

http://www.unicef.org/protection/files/childsoldiers.pdf (UNICEF factsheet on child soldiers)

http://web.amnesty.org/pages/childsoldiers-index-eng (Amnesty International)

http://www.africanwanderings.com/?p=36 (Article interviewing child soldier, mentions Save the Children, who works a lot with child soldiers)

http://www.warchild.org/ (Homepage for War Child, an NGO very active in rehabilitation of child soldiers)

http://www.child-soldiers.org/ (Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, formed by six leading NGOs: (1) Amnesty Int’l, (2) Human Rights Watch, (3) Save the Children-Sweden, (4) Jesuit Refugee Service, (5) Quaker United Nations Office-Geneva, (6), International Federation Terre des Hommes)

Good recommendations, thanks Laura.

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