The team behind UNICEF on Campus St Andrews did a fantastic job this year of putting together a panel who spoke passionately and informatively about children in conflict in various African and Asian countries. With this kind of event, it’s a reminder that On The Rocks isn’t just a festival for entertainment; it can be used to remind us of huge world issues that we are so prone to forgetting. This year’s UNICEF Symposium turned our attention to the dangers children face in their everyday lives, and the fact that the innocent are the first to pray the price in war.
Laurie Druelle spoke first about HALO, an organisation tasked with locating and neutralising IEDs. She spoke about how in countries such as Afghanistan and Somaliland, children are so often victims of these land mines, and in the bare landscapes of the country, with no money for toys and time on their hands, 90% of children hurt by IEDs are hurt while playing. Parents have to make the impossible decision of whether to send their children over minefields to collect firewood, or risk not surviving the winter.
St Andrews’ Jaremey McMullin spoke about the crisis of child soldiers in countries like Liberia, and the mission to demilitarise children and try and reintegrate soldiers under 18 into society, and the difficulties this kind of mission faces. It’s an issue I don’t think many people are aware of, and McMullin’s frustration about the situation was evident.
The next speaker was a particularly interesting one, talking not only about the situation in Africa but the different mediums he had adopted in an attempt to convey the message to wider audiences. Using offbeat methods such as the graphic novel and 360-degree video, Marc Ellison spoke about how we hear so much about Africa’s problems that we have started to become numb to them. In using formats such as graphic novels, Ellison hopes to give the topic more resonance. ‘Pictures and cartoons’, he said, ‘are always more engaging than blocks of text.’ He had a particular focus on the Central African Republic, which he called a ‘house without windows’ given its lack of media coverage, and the lack of awareness of the fact that the country is one of the worst places in the world to be a child.
The final speaker, Daniel Cosgrove, spoke about the work of UNICEF and their efforts to help in the fields of sanitation, education, child protection, as well as in many other areas. He was also the only speaker to draw attention to the ongoing refugee situation, reminding us that children who flee from conflict do not always flee into safety, and UNICEF is working to ensure that children who are forced into flight do end up somewhere better.
The speakers at the symposium all shed light on a range of issues, many of which I personally was not aware of. It does become easy to tune out all of the problems facing many African countries but UNICEF in St Andrews 2018 did an excellent job of reminding us that the problems are very much real, ongoing, and we need to be talking about them and finding solutions.