Lending a Hand: Senior kicks off Red Hand Day to highlight child military atrocities

This Wednesday, April 3, Cedar Falls High School stands up for Red Hand Day. It is a day when people all over the world raise awareness about children and teenagers that are forced to serve as soldiers in conflicts happening in some countries. Those involved in Red Hand Day leave their mark through getting people to paint their hands with red ink, printing it in big pieces of fabric. The social studies department is already collecting prints.

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The idea of getting Cedar Falls High School involved in this movement came from senior Jillian Ross after she watched the movie Blood Diamond in Jeremiah Longnecker’s Developing Nations class. The movie tells the story of how the industry of diamonds causes conflicts in some countries in Africa and sometimes it ends turning into a civil war, like in Sierra Leone, in which children are not recruited, but instead are taken to work either in some kind of non government army or in the rivers searching for jewels.

Ross said she thought that it would be a good idea for high schools students to know what is going on in other parts of the world. “I am part of Senior Leadership, so when I knew they were looking for some different things to do about different things, I thought I would really like to do this campaign. It would be a cool way to get people to know about it, and it is something important to people to know what is going on.”

Ross found out about the campaign browsing on the Internet. “It was very easy to get involved because it is not a money based thing. It is more about awareness.” There is a whole website about it, giving information about how to participate and showing events around the world that are supporting their cause. It also shows the progress of the campaign and what it has achieved so far. It is found in English, French, German and Spanish.

To let people know about her idea of raising awareness about the problem, Ross said it was a little hard. “I contacted [Supt. Mike] Wells originally, and he got in touch with the mayor who will pass the hands on too after the event is over. I had people from different newspapers that contacted me and who are probably covering the event too. Mr. Longnecker also contacted the social studies department to try to get them on it too, so more students in this department can get to know about the campaign and participate, printing their hands with red ink on the social studies hallway.”

She used social network to promote the event too. “I posted it on Facebook, actually, and I have a few of my friends reposting that, so I hope it got around.”

Regarding what she thinks about the whole subject on which the campaign is based on, she said it is heartbreaking. “They dehumanize them [the children] to make them basically killing machines. They take them away from their families, drugs are involved and abuse as well. I think people need to realize that this is a serious thing,” she said. “They need help. They can’t just get out of the situation. They are basically facing death. There is really no options for them,” she added.

One of the Red Hand Day demands is that any child, either volunteering or being forced, should be allowed in any roles in the military. They should be able to join only after they are 18. The United Nations contributes to this premise by outlawing the usage of child soldiers in any country. Other strategies for fighting the use of child soldiers are to punish people that are causing the problem and/or allowing it to happen, protecting those giving assistance and giving political asylum to the kids that could get out of the situation or that were rescued, raising more funds for child soldiers aid programs, banning arm exports and promoting peace education.

According to Ross, a big issue is the conflict diamonds. “That funds a lot of the conflicts that are going on, and that allows those people to get ahold of arms and other resources that they need to keep this happening. If people are aware of that, [they should] make sure that the diamonds that you buy are clean and not from those conflict areas,” she said. “It can make a huge difference.”

The Red Day Hand organization doesn’t raise money. The campaign is all about raising awareness for the situation and orienting people to help other groups that are working with funds. There are ways to donate money on other websites, like the Child Soldiers International (www.child-soldiers.org).

To participate in the campaign and help to raise awareness about it, students can ask the social studies department to leave their red print on the fabric for the event that will happen officially this Wednesday.

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