When I say Gulu, you say walk.
These words echoed for the durations of Sat., Oct. 20's GuluWalk campaign as participants walked throughout downtown Calgary to increase awareness of the longstanding conflict occurring in northern Uganda.
Calgary GuluWalk organizer Robert Bombardieri explained the large component of awareness that is involved in the event, which is in its third year.
"It's all about getting the message out there to the right people, so there can be permanent peace in the area," Calgary GuluWalk organizer Robert said Bombardieri.
Participants were encouraged to sign a letter to Canadian government officials, urging them to take action politically.
Mercie Onyut, Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief in Gulu, Uganda program manager--an organization that receives funding from Gulu Walk--was present for the event. Youth of the region feel had the same opportunities as other students in other parts of the country, she explained. The area does not attract teachers, meaning local youth have been marginalized and frequently drop out of school.
"Youth are targeted as child soldiers or wives to the commanders," said Onyut, noting that at least half of the youth are abducted.
Abductions are perpetrated by the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group fighting against the government explained Onyut.
"Reconciliation is an elder's process," she said. "Their voice has not been heard. The [Ugandan] government has closed their eyes to the conflict."
The University of Calgary's Community Impact--a service learning group based within residence at the U of C--participated in the event this year.
"It's not so much the conflict itself, but that these issues can stem into so much more than civil war," said Rundle Hall residence life co-ordinator and CI advisor Camille de Lacy. "It's about the people who are affected at the end of the day, through issues of poverty, hunger, lack of access to health care."
CI student leader Tammy Lambert explained the human impact of the situation should be more important than the politics behind it.
"It's a 21-year-old civil war that began in 1986," she said. "The results have been death, displacement, abduction and rape. Over one and a half million people have been displaced, and the effect on youth has been huge. The child commuters are a result of the conflict which has resulted in their necessary trek from rural villages to the bigger centres to avoid being abducted by the LRA and forced to be child soldiers or wives/sex slaves for the militia."
Many of the citizens of northern Uganda have found themselves in internally displaced persons camps since they were formed in 1996.
"The camps are terrible, the children are suffering, and the situation is getting worse," explained Lambert. "Although for those in it right now, I doubt they think it could get much worse."