On Saturday, Oct. 22, people in Montreal and 41 other cities around the world will participate in the Gulu Walk to raise awareness of the plight of Ugandan children, known as the “night commuters”. Andrea Charbonneau, the organizer of Montreal’s Gulu Walk hopes people will choose to participate.
For children in northern Uganda, walking is not a choice. As many as 40,000 Ugandan children “night commuters” are forced to walk long distances from their homes in small villages, and internally displaced people’s camps each night in order to avoid abduction. The children go to larger towns, such as Gulu, which are safer than their homes. Each day, many children make the 20 km trip from their homes to go to school and help their parents or other relatives. Others stay in the town to work.
The threat of abduction comes from the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), which has been fighting the Ugandan government for 19 years. During that time they are believed to have abducted over 20,000 children. If abducted by the LRA, boys are forced to become soldiers or laborers for them, while girls are used as sex slaves for LRA commanders. The child-soldiers are often forced to kill civilians, and some have even been forced to kill their own parents.
While becoming a night commuter is safer than staying at home, children still risk attacks while traveling. Some of these attacks come from government forces that suspect the children are rebels. Once they reach the towns, some children stay in centres set up by the Ugandan government or non-governmental organizations, others sleep on the street.
Over 1 million people have been displaced by the conflict in Northern Uganda. The Ugandan government has set up camps to house these people, but the camps frequently come under attack from the LRA. There are also reports of rapes and other human rights abuses by government forces that guard the camps. The Ugandan government claims that they have almost defeated the LRA, but organizers of the Gulu Walk are skeptical and believe the rebel attacks have spread to other parts of the country. The Ugandan government has also been accused of recruiting former LRA child-soldiers into its military.
The Montreal walk will begin at 2 p.m. on Saturday at the corner of Mackay and De Maisonneuve. The 10 km walk will end at McGill where two films will be shown, one made by Concordia students from The Forum on International Cooperation who traveled to Uganda.
Walk organizers began walking the route at 4 pm on Monday and will continue all week. They are hoping more people will join them every day in a lead up to the walk on Saturday. Participants are asked to wear orange.
“It’s like walking advertising” said Charbonneau.
She said the walk has a focus on awareness, adding that she’s surprised more people aren’t aware of the situation in Uganda.
“Everybody is uniting to recognize the fact that people aren’t aware,” Charbonneau said.
While donations will be accepted organisers said that’s not the only purpose of the walk.
“What matters is just getting out there, walking and taking a stand,” Charbonneau said.
For more information on the Gulu Walk, visit www.guluwalk .com. You can also reach organizers by phone at (416) 426-2787, or by e-mail at email@example.com