Review: Symposium X Children in Conflict

St Andrews UNICEF On Campus held its fourth annual Symposium on Monday 9 April in conjunction with the On The Rocks Festival. The nearly sold out event was held in the Byre’s top floor loft, extending an intimate feel to the event. The evening kicked off at 5:00 pm with a drinks reception, followed by opening remarks by Symposium Convenor Tanera Scott.

Ms. Scott reflected on the year long preparation for Symposium 2018. She stated, “It was an extensive yet rewarding experience.” Furthermore, Ms. Scott touched on the aim of Symposium 2018, noting that “the goal is to raise both funds and awareness for students in need.” The 2018 theme of Children in Conflict engaged both the on campus community and the wider audience comprised of St Andrews locals, university staff, and parents. Ms. Scott concluded by stating, “children do not start wars but are the most vulnerable to them”.

Following Ms. Scott’s opening comments, moderator Michael Tyra, an International Relations graduate student, took over. He introduced the evenings four speakers: Laurie Druelle, Dr. Jaremey McMullin, Mark Ellison, and Daniel Cosgrove. Mr. Tyra noted that the discussion would be particularly interesting given the practitioner’s perspective brought into the evening by the night’s keynotes. Furthermore, he stated, “tonight there will be frank discussions about the international community’s strengths on this theme.” Before introducing the first speaker, Mr. Tyra noted, “there will hopefully be a dialogue with the entire room.” This set the tone for an immersive and insightful event.

Source: UNICEF St Andrews.

Symposium 2018’s first speaker was Ms. Druelle, a research and partnerships manager at HALO Trust. Headquartered just two hours south of Glasgow, they have operations in 19 countries and four territories. Their staff of over 8,000 is mainly comprised of locals with the goal of empowering communities. HALO Trust operates in post-conflict settings to remove landmines; Ms. Druelle believes this work is critical, as she stated, “children are the first impacted by war, even decades after conflict.” Children in these post-conflict settings not only have to live with the daily fear of stepping on landmines but also the psychological trauma of their parents.

Ms. Druelle highlighted several interesting cases of HALO Trust’s work, including Gangawama School in Northern Zimbabwe. Before HALO Trust cleared the land mines from this area students had to circumnavigate the minefield, making their daily school commute two hours each way. However, after the field was cleared, the students commute decreased to just 45 minutes each way.

Ms. Druelle shared another impactful example from Kapisa Province in Afghanistan. Unlike the children in Zimbabwe, young girls in this village had no option but to cross an active minefield everyday to collect water. Ms. Druelle explained that these girls were not only afraid of dying but also of becoming handicapped. Rural Afghanistan and other post-conflict settings do not have adequate resources for the disabled community.

The night’s second speaker was University of St Andrews International Relations lecturer Dr. Jaremey McMullin. Dr. McMullin’s research is centered on Sub-Saharan Africa and encompasses all ex-combattants, not just children. Dr. McMullin spent the month of January researching the commercial motorcyclist industry in Liberia. The industry was established by ex-combattants, although now is not solely dominated by them. Dr. McMullin raised interesting questions such as the tradeoffs between the reintegration of child ex-combattants and their protection. As far as the motorcyclists, he highlighted a common problem in reintegration programs. Many of the children recruited into conflicts are adults by the time that conflict draws to an end. This results not only in an education lapse but also makes it harder for these individuals to access resources and programs, so much so that many of the motorcyclists that Dr. McMullin interviewed in January received their extensive injuries not from the war but from their work in the dangerous motorcycling industry.

Dr. McMullin also discussed at length the problems with child rights architecture. While it does entail child ex-combattants to reintegration programs it lacks a concrete structure, guidance, and goals. This makes it nearly impossible for children to access these international resources. Dr. McMullin stated, “previous legal protections impede more than assist child centered assistance.” Dr. McMullin raised interesting points of view, and argued that children should have a say in the conditions of reintegration.

After a brief intermission, the night’s third speaker, photojournalist Mark Ellison took the podium. Mr. Ellison uses a variety of mediums besides photos to convey the reality of children living in conflict and post-conflict zones, including 360 degree video and interactive graphic novels. Mr. Ellison talked extensively about the Central African Republic (CAR), which he labelled as one of the worst countries to be a child in. CAR’s many problems, including a lengthy civil war, stem from misrule, developmental delays, and lack of access to health services.

Source: Flickr.

Mr. Ellison pointed out some staggering figures to make his point, 2.3 million people in CAR have been directly affected by the conflict and half of those individuals are children. Four years into the conflict a quarter of schools are still closed, only a third of students are enrolled, and many children still live in IDP camps–what Mr. Ellison labels “islands in an ocean of hate”.

Mr. Ellison called CAR “a house without windows” meaning that without media coverage the Western world is oblivious to the situation occurring within the nation. Mr. Ellison also noted that besides the derailed education system, health care would not exist if not for Doctors Without Borders, and malaria, malnutrition, and influenza are rampant. There is also an increasingly alarming number of street kids in the capital city, Mr. Ellison calls the conflict in CAR an “orphan factory”.

Mr. Ellison relayed that he uses graphic novels, photos, and interactive videos because it engages the wider public and prevents reader fatigue. He argues that any tool that results in education is worthwhile.

The evening’s final speaker was UNICEF UK officer Mr. Cosgrove, who works across Scotland with funding partners and donors. He opened his speech with a quote from Home by Warsan Shire:“You have to understand that no one puts their child in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” Mr. Cosgrove followed that up by stating, “as conflict rumbles on people make longer journeys, spending more time away from healthcare, education, and permanent infrastructure”. Mr. Cosgrove cited statistics that took the entire audience aback:there are currently 22.5 million refugees globally, and half of those refugees come from Syria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan. Even more difficult for the audience to absorb was the fact that children comprise 11 million of the world’s refugees.

Mr. Cosgrove also highlighted the cluster approach, whereby each main area of humanitarianism is represented by leading NGOs. UNICEF oversees nutrition, WASH, and education. This involves tackling malnutrition, ensuring access to clean water, preventing the spread of cholera, and establishing adaptive education programs. UNICEF also tries to ensure child protection through the creation of child friendly spaces within IDP camps and providing individual and group counseling as well as psychotherapy to children in camps.

Lastly, Mr. Cosgrove discussed the emphasis that UNICEF places on innovation. UNICEF tries to adapt the ideas of young people on how to improve the current system. One example of this was the barter and time bank instituted by young people at an IDP camp. A carpenter could spend time helping to build a home and bank that time to use on other services, like a haircut. Mr. Cosgrove ended his remarks by stating, “children who flee conflict do not necessarily flee to safety, we can make effects of conflict softer.”

Following a short intermission, the panel discussion part of the evening commenced. Moderator Mr. Tyra asked a series of interesting questions such as: “Are the international communities current responses on track to keep up the with growing need, or are we falling short?” Mr. Cosgrove argued that funding is becoming harder to come by as a result of Western-states’ turn to the right and isolationism. He argued the solution was to be better with the resources we do have. Mr. Ellison echoed Mr. Cosgrove stating the biggest obstacle to overcome is funding. Meanwhile, Ms. Druelle believed that the international community could improve its responses by remaining in post-conflict areas longer. Finally, Dr. McMullin contended that there is a failure of learning at the institutional level and that NGOs and states need to work to combat wider problems within the international order.

There was a number of follow up questions and insightful responses from the speakers before the floor was opened up to questions from the audience. The ability to ask questions kept the event immersive and the audience engaged. Symposium 2018 was an interesting and thought-provoking event. For those who did not make it this year, look out for their fifth anniversary event in 2019.

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