Fighting to end child warfare

Red Hand Day demands United Nations action

Story and photos by Casey Lessard

Our Lady of Mount Carmel students were caught red-handed February 5. They were painting their hands red and sending a handprint to the United Nations to put pressure on the international body to stop the use of child soldiers globally. The project is an initiative of Human Rights Watch, and Mount Carmel’s social justice club supports the move.
“We’re children and we can connect to the children who are fighting,” says Lauren Stewart, who formed the club with fellow student Jessica Lavery after seeing Free the Children founder Marc Kielburger speak. He told them that if they wanted to make a difference, they should start a social justice club. With 29 members, the club makes up almost 20 per cent of the school population.
“For these kids, putting a red hand means more than just finger painting. We are going to send these to the United Nations and hopefully it will make a difference.
“We want to see the decrease of child soldiers around the world.”
Principal Todd Chisholm is impressed with the students’ initiative.
“They make the decisions about their projects. It’s purely student-driven,” Chisholm says, noting such concern is nurtured in the classroom. “We talk about outreach and doing social justice for others. That’s already embedded in our classroom teaching, and at the school level, we have a philosophy about being a Community of Caring.”
Teacher Carrie Ducharme-Ivatts is the school’s Community in Caring leader. The project’s goal is to promote social justice and environmental awareness.
“You educate the whole person, and not just one aspect,” Ducharme-Ivatts says. “We focus on the spiritual, academic and intellectual components.”
Lenten activities will support Mission Services in London, with projects that include a raffle to support shelters, donation drives for clothing, lunch bags, and juice boxes.
“When the kids actually do it,” she says, “they get the value out of it. They feel they are making a difference.”
Lauren Stewart agrees, noting the students want to volunteer, but opportunities are limited for elementary students.
“They want high school students,” Stewart says. “It’s hard to find volunteer work off-site. We’re hoping they’ll see how hard we try and let us come on-site. It’s better for us.”
The group aims to accomplish one project per month, focusing on wide-ranging social justice concerns at home (such as bullying), in the community (Blessings and Mission Services) and around the world. Guest speakers and field trips are also planned.