Cheryl Heykoop

Royal Roads students tales of war horrors in Uganda earn nod during UVic congress

Royal Roads student seeks ways to have Ugandan children tell the truth and help heal

  • Jun. 7, 2013 4:00 p.m.

Worldwide children live with horrific memories of genocide and war.

Cheryl Heykoop is searching for the best way to share it.

The Royal Roads University student is working towards a doctorate of Social Science and has been working in Africa with children focussing on truth commissions which are formed to document witness testimony. She has listened to dozens of unfathomable stories from children, like Sia, in both Uganda and Sierra Leone.

“At the age of 12 (Sia) was abducted by the rebels and forced to fight. Sia watched as her mother was raped. She was forced to kill her father and eat his flesh,” Heykoop said.

After Sia’s testimony was recorded at the Sierra Leone truth commission in 2008, her stories of horror were played for the public on a video.

“Some (children) found relief and healing through (truth commissions), but others felt shame, disappointment and further harm,” Heykoop said. “They were ostracized in their community.”

Some children were forced to kill other people in their community and once the word got out, they were shunned, explained Heykoop. The children would talk about their experiences anonymously, she added, but often the interviewers would tell other people.

“I found it probably caused further harm to the children,” Heykoop said. “Sierra Leone was the first truth commission to involve kids.”

There are plans to set up a truth commission in Uganda. Heykoop has been working with youth and interpreters who speak both English and Luo, trying to find the best way for children to share their stories safely.

“For children truth commissions probably cause further harm to them, often the interviewer is someone they don’t even know,” she explained.

Heykoop found that youth preferred using art as a method of sharing their experiences.

“For things like this they have difficulty using the spoken word,” she said. Others would rather discuss it with other children with similar experiences in a safe, group setting.

“It’s the international community that is really pushing using the truth commissions. They say it helps with reconstitution and health,” Heykoop said.

The 33-year-old recently returned from a three-month stay in Kitgum, Uganda working with the Refugee Law Project. She plans to return at the end of July  and stay until October.

Heykoop was selected as one of 25 people competing in the story-telling competition during Congress held at the University of Victoria wrapping up today (June 8).

“It gave me an opportunity to share about my research,” she said.

Heykoop was ranked in the top five performers and will continue on to the World Social Forum in Montreal Oct. 13 to 14.

 

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