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GuluWalk unites Uganda, ND

Justin Tardiff | Tuesday, October 24, 2006

About 30,000 people in more than 80 cities and 15 countries mobilized Sunday for GuluWalk Day, an event organized to support the abandoned children in northern Uganda – and nearly 150 of those walkers hailed from Notre Dame and the South Bend community.

Walkers braved the cold and rain to walk from the Potawatomi Zoo to the gymnasium of Indiana University of South Bend, a co-sponsor of the event, to promote peace in war-torn northern Uganda.

“It is amazing that a group of individuals living in a fairly small part of northern Indiana could come together so eagerly in global solidarity,” said senior Nicole Steele, part of the event’s organizing committee.

Part of the mission of senior Lindsay Hero and her GuluWalk committee was to raise awareness of the terrible human tragedy occurring in Northern Uganda, said senior Patrick Corrigan, president of Notre Dame’s Uganda Conflict Action Network.

“The humanitarian consequences of the conflict between the rebel forces and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have been tragic,” he said.

Each day, as many as 40,000 children walk from villages and Internal Displaced Persons Camps (IDCP) into the town of Gulu, where they spend the night in safety and away from the threat of being abducted by the LRA. The GuluWalk, organizers said, is intended to be a symbolic effort showing worldwide solidarity and support for these children.

The peace talks between the LRA and the Ugandan government are at a critical stage, and GuluWalk participants worldwide were encouraged to make a public statement in support of this process.

“With 20 walks in Canada, 44 in the United States and events in Australia, Burkina Faso, China, England, France, Italy, Kenya, Netherlands, New Zealand, Serbia and Togo, it’s clear that this is not a fringe issue but one that citizens from every corner of the globe want to see their governments engage in,” the GuluWalk Web site reads.

Hero visited Uganda over the summer, and it was this visit, she said, that inspired her to take on the challenge of organizing the citywide walk.

“The hard work paid off. It was really a community effort,” Hero said. “The majority of walkers were from Penn High School and Marian High School, but we had people drive in from Michigan and students from Taylor University in southern Indiana as well as members of the South Bend community.”

Through donations and the sale of GuluWalk T-shirts, hats and wristbands, local participants raised nearly $2,500, Hero said.

Hero led a rally after the walk in the IUSB gymnasium.

Steele spent the summer working in Uganda and recalled a desperate plea made to her by the director of an Internal Displaced Persons Camp (IDCP) in the city of Gulu: “We are here. We are suffering. We are suffering. We are dying, don’t forget us.”

“Over 90 percent of the population lives in these camps,” Steele said. “There is little sanitation, limited medical supplies, and they are 100 percent dependent on outside food. In one camp they have 26,000 people in a 50-meter radius.”

Organizers urged the walkers to take action and pressure the U.S. government to pay attention to the issues of Uganda.

“One of the main goals of the Gulu Walk this year was to promote the support of peace talks occurring right now and to walk in solidarity with the night commuters,” Steele said.

Other speeches included the reading of testimonials written by actual night commuters who walk eight to 10 miles from IDP camps to city centers to avoid kidnapping. If captured, the young men are generally forced to become soldiers and are often forced to kill people in their own families or villages, Corrigan said. The young women are often given to military officers for pleasure and may be tortured.

Putting a face to the stories about the struggles in Uganda, the event organizers brought in a 15-year-old Ugandan refugee named Evaline.

“She helped realize the real human consequences,” Corrigan said.

Evaline, who now lives in Fort Wayne, Ind., was captured by the LRA and held captive for three years, suffering from inhumane forms of torture. Permanently disfigured after breaking her lower jaw when hit by flying shrapnel in a firefight, she has already had three facial operations.

The original GuluWalk began in July 2005 with just two people. Rapidly, it has grown into a worldwide peace movement.