The hands reaching out for help are from children in war-torn Uganda. The hands reaching out to help them are from a senior at the University of Houston-Victoria.
Karalyn Jones, a 22-year-old education major, will spend the summer in Africa aiding and teaching children in the war-torn country of Uganda.
Jones first learned about their plight two years ago through Invisible Children, an organization dedicated to protecting the children of Uganda and ending the long-running civil war. Then, in November, she attended a Methodist church-sponsored justice conference in Dallas.
Two men talked about homes they run for former child soldiers in their respective countries. Many of these children, some as young as 5, were kidnapped by rebel soldiers and forced to fight on the front lines.
“They use them as mine sweepers,” Jones said with an impassioned voice. Children literally are forced to walk across minefields to clear them.
“They’re expendable because the rebels can get as many as they want,” she said.
Boys become soldiers. Girls become sex slaves or wives. Many children are sold to finance the revolution.
Children as young as 8 to 10 are sometimes forced to beat other children to death as a way of learning aggression, she said. Some are even forced to attack their own villages and kill their own families.
Jones turned her heartbreak into a call for action.
On June 18, she will leave for Uganda after a four-day New York orientation. She will have nothing more than a 30-pound backpack to get her through eight weeks in Africa as part of an outreach sponsored by Operation Crossroads Africa, an aid organization predating the Peace Corps.
She will be one of eight to 10 college students working within classrooms to help tutor children, aid teachers and assist in the construction of a facility for special needs children to teach them how to be part of a brass band.
“We don’t come in and bring our own programs; we simply provide manpower for their vision,” Jones said.
Her visit also will include meetings with former child soldiers who are being taught how to live in society.
While there, Jones will complete an independent study for an anthropology class through UHV to study how children are educated and learn in Uganda. With more than 56 tribal languages spoken in that nation, the burgeoning education system faces numerous unique challenges.
Most of Jones’ preparatory research has focused on these language barriers which the children and their schools must overcome.
When she returns, she will present her findings and gain credit from the UHV School of Arts & Sciences.
UHV awarded Jones a $600 scholarship to help finance her trip. In addition, her education background and credentials from UHV were major contributing factors in her selection for the Uganda team.
“At UHV, we try to equip our students to go out and change the world,” UHV President Tim Hudson said. “When I hear about students like Ms. Jones actually going out and doing it, it touches a special place in my heart.”
Hudson extended his personal best wishes to Jones.
“I wish her the best of luck on the trip, and I can’t wait to hear the amazing stories she’ll bring back to share with all of us at UHV,” Hudson said.
This is one more example of how the UHV community spans the entire globe, he said.
But Jones is not just waiting around until her trip. She’s already started her work to try to help ease the suffering of these children.
For Christmas, Jones ran a small pilot project in which people could make a donation in the name of a loved one to benefit children in Africa instead of sending a Christmas gift. She plans to launch the program to a wider audience this Christmas.
At St. Marks Methodist Church, Jones organized a Vacation Bible School that connected children at her church to those at the homes in Liberia and Uganda by exchanging letters and name bracelets.
“The children in those homes, they feel betrayed and forgotten,” she said. Most can’t go home because they are either rejected or their homes simply have been destroyed.
“Our hope was to let them know they have not been forgotten, that we know their real names, and we feel they can change the world, too,” Jones said.
Getting a simple name bracelet and letter from children in America meant the world to those in Africa. In turn, the American children learned what they could do to help change the world.
Jones is raising money for her trip and plans to blog during the trip about her adventures and experiences in the war-torn country. She will blog through UHV Connect, UHV’s social networking Web site, at www.uhvconnect.org.
Jones can be contacted at email@example.com or through St. Marks United Methodist Church, (361) 575-8206.