Cynthia Berecek
Special to the Sun
Snowmass Village, CO, Colorado

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June 5, 2012
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Rotary column: From child soldier to peace advocate

Emmanuel Jal, a former Sudanese child soldier, recently delivered the keynote speech at the 2012 Rotary International Peace Symposium in Bangkok, Thailand. World peace is one of Rotary International's core missions, and Jal's speech was especially significant because of how he turned his horrific experience into peace advocacy that is touching people around the world.

After murdering Jal's mother and most of his family in the country's civil war, the Sudan People's Liberation Army forced him to fight as a soldier at the age of nine. For three years, Jal witnessed atrocities and experienced horrors while trying to escape Sudan's bloody civil war. A British aid worker found Jal as he sought refuge in the desert and smuggled him into Kenya.

Jal later developed his music talent and quickly became a hip-hop star. Feeling a need to raise awareness about the effects of war and poverty, he decided to use his musical success as a way to tell his personal story. He also has become a peace advocate and shares his message of peace through various international organizations including Amnesty International, Save the Children, UNICEF, the World Food Program, and Christian Aid.

"Peace means different things to people all around the world," said Jal. "Peace is when you leave home and come back safely. Peace is when you have a full stomach. For me, peace is justice, equality, and freedom for all.

"I was at my lowest point as a human being during my escape. I was angry. I wanted to hurt those who killed my family and friends. But I learned to forgive. It's a constant struggle for me. But forgiveness is a path to peace."

Rotary International sponsors student fellowships at Centers for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution at seven universities throughout the world. Snowmass Village Rotary is one of 33,000 clubs worldwide, and raises funds for international programs such as these, and also supports nonprofits throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.

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The Aspen Times Updated Jun 5, 2012 05:19PM Published Jun 5, 2012 05:17PM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.