by Molly Thomas
PHOTO: Members of the Cougar Women's Hockey team took part in this year's Gulu Walk.
When it comes to international travel, most students have a beach, bikini and piña colada in mind. But for two University of Regina students, volunteering is more important than vacationing.
At Notre Dame College, Kaitlin Sherven’s life revolved around school, hockey and friends. International issues seemed a world away from Wilcox, Saskatchewan. But everything changed when talk of ‘Gulu’ came to town.
Inspired by teacher Josh Campbell, Sherven began to learn about the civil war that ravaged Northern Uganda for more than two decades.
She was shocked that 20,000 children had been kidnapped by the Lord's Resistance Army. To avoid capture, many kids became night commuters; trekking along the Gulu highway to safety.
In 2005, Adrian Bradbury and Kieran Hayward heard about these children. They started a 31-day walk to raise awareness in North America.
Sherven participated in her first Gulu Walk last year. Then, when her school announced a volunteer trip to Uganda she jumped at the opportunity.
With a team of 10, the students traveled to Mbale & Kampala in southern Uganda. They distributed soccer balls and worked with children affected by the war. "It really hits home when you’re friends with the people and really get to know them," she said.
One child stands out in particular: 19-year old Dennis was a former child soldier. Tears ran down his face as he told bits and pieces of his story.
Coming back to Canada, Sherven had a new perspective. “It definitely opened my eyes. I learned that there’s more to life, like taking social responsibility, not only in Africa but in the community back here.”
Today, Sherven is a University of Regina student and she has taken her passion to the ice. As a member of the Cougar women’s hockey team, she encouraged her teammates to get involved. She also helped organize Regina’s Gulu Walk on October 24 which saw it largest turnout to date. Seventy-five people made the morning walk, raising $1,200 for children in Uganda. Photo: students walk down 11th ave during the Gulu Walk on Oct. 24.
Joseph Buwembo, a local Ugandan neuro-surgeon was impressed. “It’s really encouraging to see that the young people are out to support this quite strongly. It’s important for the young people because they are the future leaders,” he said.
PHOTO: Students walk down 11th Ave for the Gulu Walk
Sherven is not stopping there. She’s saving up to volunteer in Uganda after she graduates. She hopes to take a few teammates.
Mwiti Njaji is a Kenyan exchange student. He thinks Canadian students are generally unaware of international issues. The Gulu Walk gave him hope.
“Canada is a safe haven so it may make you a bit ignorant of other things going on. So it’s good to see that people now know about child soldiers,” he said.
No one can accuse Jana Knezacek of international ignorance. A few years ago she started collecting pennies for a peace centre in Rwanda. To date, she’s raised more than $3,000.
This past summer, she traveled to east Africa where she volunteered at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Knezecek thinks all university students should go overseas. “Your eyes are opened and it’s not an ethnocentric perspective,” she said.
She documented genocide stories during didn't leave her work behind at the end of the day. Two street children lived with her because they had nowhere to go. “They started calling me mom,” Knezacek remembers.
With a love for children, Knezacek returned to Regina with a new focus: to raise awareness about child soldiers.
“It was super hard at first, especially at the University of Regina where students are so narrowly focused. Everyone wants to get a career and get out of university,” she said.
PHOTO: Knezacek interviews a war widow during her time in Rwanda
Despite her busy schedule, she planned the recent screening of Invisible Children.
The film is a product of three young, filmmakers who traveled to Africa in 2003. Their realistic depiction of war has been broadcast around the globe.
Knezacek was pleasantly surprised at the Regina turn out. Over 100 students came out.
Because the response was so great, Knezacek may start a campus group. Only seven of the 70 campus groups currently cater to international affairs. But Knezacek isn’t worried; she’s motivated by other young activists.
“Three people with a camera got over a million people involved with Invisible Children,” Knezacek said. “If they can do it, so can I.”