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Documentary highlights refugee camps

Megan Doyle | Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Human Rights ND partnered with Project Nur on Tuesday night to present the documentary “Terror’s Children” and to create a greater awareness among students for human rights violations in refugee camps.

Project Nur visited Notre Dame as a student-led initiative of the American Islamic Congress. Bashir Martin, a representative of the organization, described Project Nur’s mission as one of advocacy for human rights in the Muslim world.

“Another one of the purposes of Project Nur is to build bridges among Muslims and between Muslims and non-Muslims,” Martin said.

Martin described the work of Project Nur as spurred by a general lack of knowledge and understanding of Muslim communities. The program, he said, is currently working to spread awareness of human rights violations around academic communities.

Project Nur and Human Rights ND connected over the common theme of cultural awareness.

“Our focus for Human Rights ND this year is education about human rights,” said club vice president Katie Corr, a junior. “Our goal is showing films like this one is to create an intrigue and a motivation to learn more.”

“Terror’s Children” addressed the plight of refugees, particularly children, who have fled to Pakistan in search of sanctuary from the unstable political climate in Afghanistan.

Journalist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy spent 10 weeks in the summer of 2002 in her native city of Karachi, Pakistan, following the death of eight Afghan children. The stories of these children reflect the difficulties of life as a child refugee, Obaid-Chinoy said.

“My aim was to address issues relating to the psychological impact of war on education, and the poverty and day by day survival of these children,” Obaid-Chinoy said.

The film also examined the difficulties of those who chose to remain in Pakistan. Thirteen year-old Abdur Raheem became the primary source of income for his family when his older brothers both sustained injuries that put them out of work.

“What we found were children facing tough choices and overwhelming responsibilities in very uncertain times,” said Obaid-Chinoy.

The documentary also spotlighted the dangers of the limited education offered to refugee children in strict religious schools. Some schools provide a balanced education of math, science and language, but more hard-line institutions simply teach the principles of fundamentalist Islam as breeding grounds for more terrorism.

“Terror’s Children” depicted boys such as 11 year-old Khal Mohammad declaring their desire to act violently in the name of Islam after receiving this more biased education.

These examples are reminders of the lost childhood among the refugees and the need for an education that develops critical thinking skills instead of vehement religious fervor, which often can be seen as brainwashing.

“Another way to wage a war is to educate,” said Martin. “Critical thinking and education is the key when dealing with human rights.”

Obaid-Chinoy said each child in the documentary asked if his or her life would improve because of the film. She replied people might be motivated to help if they were able to see individuals affected by the poor conditions of refugee life.

“I felt like it was incredibly edifying to hear and see actual stories. It really gives the chance to connect to the issue,” Corr said.

The need for greater learning is an issue of great concern for refugees as they rebuild lives both in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

 “Relief agencies must provide better education opportunities, working conditions, and health care, Obaid-Chinoy said. “That is the only way to ensure that there is a better day coming for these children and for future generations.”