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By: Ray Bradshaw
HALIFAX – Roméo Dallaire put PTSD on the map. The former Canadian Forces Lieutenant-General and later Senator witnessed unspeakable horrors first hand. He was commander of United Nations Rwanda mission during the genocide in 1994. In just over three months of ethnic slaughter – nearly one million people were butchered.
Dallaire has since made it his ultimate mission to campaign against the use of children as weapons of war and that’s the message he brought with him to 500 people at the Spatz Theatre at Citadel High Tuesday night.
Roméo Dallaire is passionate about his project: the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldier Initiative. His goal is to end the use and recruitment of child soldiers around the world. He’s so dedicated to the effort, he resigned as a Senator to raise awareness.
“Those children are…children,” he told the audience, “and they’re being used as simply instruments of war, by adults.”
Dallaire witnessed the genocide in Rwanda in 1993-94 as commander of the U.N Rwanda mission. He captivated the audience at Citadel High School in Halifax – with a gripping speech – keeping everyone’s attention, including students from Horton District High in the Annapolis Valley.
“He’s just so incredible to listen to, says Mackenzie Pardy, a Grade 12 student at Horton. She adds, “He’s endured so much and he’s still so optimistic and still puts so much effort into fighting this issue and I think that’s important to see as teenagers.”
On stage, Dallaire continues to talk about child soldiers. “Some of them don’t even remember what a family was because they were abducted at 8 or 9 years old,” says Dallaire.
Despite his efforts and the efforts of others, child soldier recruitment is growing he says. “It is spreading and it is in our own country and if we don’t take preventive measures and if we don’t train people how to handle the situation, it’s going to continue to grow.”
Dallaire’s way of fighting back is simple, but it requires money. “Wouldn’t it be smarter to provide security for those schools where they knew something was happening and prevent them from being recruited in the first place” he tells the audience.
Dallaire’s organization is helping to combat the recruiters. He says “We built the training program for military and police.”
Dallaire’s organization also works with Dalhousie University which notes, not every child soldier carries a gun. “It’s from porters to carrying ammunition, to carrying water to ultimately being sex slaves and bush wives,” says Dallaire.
Horton High students have been coming to hear Dallaire speak since 2010 and he’s having an effect on them. “Many of them leave saying this is one of their most memorable moments of high school – to hear such a great humanitarian speak,” says Renata Verri, a History teacher at Horton High.