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GuluWalk to raise money for Ugandans

Katie Peralta | Thursday, October 11, 2007

On Sunday afternoon, most members of the Notre Dame community will be recovering from Saturday’s home football game, but senior Joel Steiner hopes people will take a few hours to participate in the GuluWalk, an event that raises money for children in northern Uganda.

Steiner is organizing GuluWalk South Bend, an annual event started in the area in 2003 by then-Notre Dame students Peter Quaranto and Michael Poffenberger.

Steiner met Quaranto and Poffenberger, now graduates of the University, through his work in Uganda, where he spent part of last year.

Steiner is now an active member of the Notre Dame branch of Resolve Uganda, a Washington, D.C.-based northern Uganda advocacy group.

Steiner said he hopes to draw all types of community members to the walk Sunday.

“It should be an event for the entire community,” he said, “and so we are organizing it in collaboration with Indiana University South Bend’s (IUSB) student government.”

Last year’s GuluWalk attracted more than 30,000 people and raised more than $500,000.

Although there is no pre-registration for the walk, Steiner said he encourages people to donate to the cause. This year’s walk will take place on Sunday at IUSB’s Student Activity Center. Registration begins at 1 p.m. and the walk starts at 1:30. It will end around 2:30 p.m, Steiner said.

After the walk, there will be a talk by Stephen Okello, a graduate student at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and a native Ugandan from Gulu. Quaranto met Okello in Uganda, where the two brainstormed the idea of founding a chapter of Resolve Uganda at Notre Dame.

The situation in northern Uganda is a bleak one, Steiner said. War has been raging in the area for the past 20 years. Uganda’s current president, Yoweri Museveni, overthrew the former government, and violence has persisted throughout the region. The situation has created an increasingly unsafe environment for families, who have faced the brunt of the violence between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan Acholi people. The government has set up “protected villages” – dangerous refugee camps where nearly 1.7 million people live, according to gulawalk.com. The people live in poverty since “in camps, they are away from their lands and have no real source of income,” Steiner said.

The name of the GuluWalk draws attention to the approximately 40,000 Ugandan children who walk from their small, unsafe villages into the northern city of Gulu during the night. There they can find a degree of safety and avoid being abducted by the LRA, which has already taken over 30,000 children to be used soldiers or as sex slaves.

The journey of these children, Steiner said, attracted the attention of two Canadians, Adrian Bradbury and Kieran Hayward. In July 2005, the pair began walking 12.5 kilometers into downtown Toronto to sleep in front of the city hall to demonstrate the plight of the children.

The GuluWalk, then, emulates the actions of Bradbury and Hayward.

“[Resolve Uganda wants] to get people to realize what [the children’s] problems are,” Steiner said. “It began as a symbolic movement as walking with the kids in solidarity. Now it is for support of all the oppressed of Gulu and northern Uganda.”

Funds from the walk, Steiner said, go toward youth empowerment organizations for initiatives related to health and education. Other crucial actions – such as getting people out of the oppressed camps of the Northern region rebuilding schools – must be taken, he said.

“The Ugandan government in the north only gives the people enough to stay alive,” Steiner said, referring to the shoddy and unsafe conditions in which Ugandans live.

The region has experienced a temporary cease-fire for the past year and a half, he said, and peace talks are currently underway. Many European nations have given support to such talks, and humanitarian presence is strong in the region, Steiner said.

The United States has supported peace efforts, Steiner said, but has remained largely silent, giving little financial support.