Young people took to the streets of nearly 100 cities in 15 countries on Saturday to raise awareness about the humanitarian suffering in northern Uganda, where two decades of conflict have taken a severe toll. VOA's Margaret Besheer was at Saturday's march in Washington.
About 100 secondary school and university students marched down Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue towards the White House in orange t-shirts emblazoned with "GuluWalk."
They were trying to highlight the cause of thousands of young people who live in northern Uganda and have been victims of the decades-long armed conflict between the Lord's Resistance Army and the Ugandan government.
"Gulu" refers to Gulu town where thousands of children try to take refuge each night to avoid murder and kidnapping at the hands of the Lord's Resistance Army. The unlucky children who are captured are forced to become child soldiers, while young girls are forced into sexual servitude.
Supporter John Prendergast says the walk is one way for American youth to show solidarity with their counterparts half a world away and also let U.S. policymakers know it is an important issue. "We have got to generate some political will here in Washington and throughout the United States for engagement in the peace process. One of the ways to do it is, as you can see, is to get young people engaged and by doing things," he said.
Meghan Ryan, a 21 year- old university student, spent last summer at a northern Uganda camp where she helped women become more financially self-reliant. She says she had the opportunity to see the situation up-close and that has motivated her to press for more U.S. government action. "I spent time with some heads of the communities and heads of the camps talking about how they are going to transition if peace finally occurs. That's going to be a big process, which is why we really need the U.S. government to step up and take a larger role and provide more support to northern Uganda," she said.
Michael Poffenberger of the organization Resolve Uganda says participants are also raising money through the march. Seventy-five percent of donations will go to programs to help children directly affected by the crisis and the rest to international advocacy and education programs.
Poffenberger says the recent appointment of a U.S. State Department advisor for conflict resolution who is focusing on northern Uganda was a great first step, but the U.S. needs to do more to help ongoing peace negotiations succeed. "The key thing the U.S. government can do for northern Uganda is to make sure the support for the ongoing peace negotiations is sustained. That there is nothing that can stop these negotiations from succeeding if we just make sure that all the parties stay committed to the talks and there is no discussion of resumption of violence in the region unless the process totally collapses," he said.
This is the third year the GuluWalk has taken place in Washington. Last year, participants helped raise over $500,000 for children's programs in northern Uganda.