Music and poetry of a former war child

by Sarmista Das on April 1, 2016 - 8:52am

The prevalence of child soldiers is a tragic phenomenon that spans different warring nations.  Watch and respond to the following video by a former Sudanese child soldier named Emmanuel Jal.


Instructions: Click on the following link and follow the instructions written below:
1. Read the biography on the page
2. Watch the video
3. POST EITHER an original discussion question OR respond to a peer's discussion question.
Due date: Homework is due by 10 AM on Friday, April 8.


Based on Emmanuel Jal's TED Talk and your own opinion, what is a war child? How do their lives differ from typical North American children?

According to Emmanuel Jal and my interpretation, a war child is defined and characterized by the fact that they are born into war. Being born into war, the children are surrounded by violence and are tormented at a young age. Because of this, they grow up completely desensitized to the idea of murder since it is part of everyday life. They live lives full of pain, suffering and struggle. Furthermore, a war child is also stripped from his/her childhood. This factor enables the distinction between a war child and a North American child. In North America, childhood is considered to be a very important part of life. It involves a sense of absolute freedom and dependence on others to provide, protect and nourish. War children experience the complete opposite as they are manipulated and must fare for themselves.

Based on Emmanuel Jal's TED Talk, i consider a war child to be a lot more than a child that helps with military support. I believe that a war child is a child that survived hard times and potentially war itself. Emmanuel witnessed many deaths as a child, which i believed made him a survivor. A war child (in my opinion), fights to keep themselves and pushes other to keep going. A war child is strong. I assume that a war child's life differs from North American children in terms of the difficult stages at younger ages. A war child faces many deaths and tough experiences on a daily. They do not get to go to school (most of the time) nor sleep in an typical north american "average" house. A war child has gone to war, and come back from it. But "war" can also be an inner battle.

For Emmanuel Jal, music and poetry have been a means of salvation. Why do you think such forms of art have such a big impact on one's life?

What kind of repercussions a prolonged exposure to violence can have on an adult that fought a war as a child?

Your childhood is crucial period in your life. During this period, you are learning and making sense of the world around more and more every day. If, as a child, you are surround by brutal violence, it becomes the norm. As Emmanuel said, he saw people die right in front of his eyes and did not even cry. This violence, in a sense, becomes a part of you. Children exposed to violence can learn to express their emotions in that same form of aggression and they can easily be brain washed into thinking the same violent thoughts that their elders have. These repercussions will surely have a negative influence on that person later on in their adulthood. They may unfortunately live their entire lives in a violent manner, or perhaps with the help of education, some day come to the realization that life is not suppose to be lived this way, and that violence is never the answer.

In my opinion, Emmanuel has a point when he is showing that education is bigger than money. By sending money and food to Sudan, people are satisfied for a short period of time. It is only helping them at the present moment, but once there is no more food, they are going back to where they were before. They are getting used to that luxury but do not have the knowledge or the tools to work for it. On the other hand, having the good tools and the good resources for Sudanese to learn and grow will help the people on a longer term, and therefore help their nation. They will be able to build back the country to its maximum potential with professionals contributing to it.

Music and poetry have been a means of salvation for Emmanuel Jal. Such forms of art can greatly impact one's life as they allow people to organise their internal thoughts and feelings. Emmanuel has experienced a harsh past as a war child, growing up in a violent environment surrounded by death and torment. Music and poetry provides him an outlet for the feelings of fear, anger and grief that have accumulated over the years. By reorganising his thoughts and expressing his feelings on paper and through singing, rather than suppressing them, he avoids imploding upon himself by the weight of his past. Hence, he can move forward and create a better future for himself.

I think that giving the Sudanese population access to education empowers them. My parents once told me the story of how giving a man a fish will feed him for a day, whereas teaching a man to fish can feed him for a lifetime. After having heard this, I've learned how powerful education actually is. Therefore, giving Sudanese people food and money is a temporary solution. Giving them education, however, can feed them for a lifetime.

Emmanuel Jal mentions that as a war child, he resented Muslims. In your opinion, how an individual who has experienced a traumatic past can remove hatred and anger from his/her heart?

In my opinion, I do not think that it is possible for someone who has been subject to such terrible events to stop resenting and feeling angry towards those he thinks are the perpetrators of these wars. The only way I see for him to get around these negative feelings is to understand that not every person in the religion or in the nation of the perpetrators are evil and that hatred and anger cannot solve problems and would only add oil to the fire.

Based on Emmanuel Jal's take on why music and education are important in life, and your own opinion about the subject, list the similarities and differences between both thoughts and explain them.

I think that those two forms of art allow people to express their profound emotions and thoughts freely. The performance that Emmanuel Jal made, for instance, allow him to deliver his story in a way where he can feel heard by others and he is able to accept his past to seek forward. Moreover, music and poetry create images that allow other people to rely and feel the situation being told. For Jal, music was like a therapy that has a powerful impact on his mind, soul and spirit. Music allowed him to get over is past as a child soldier since this form of art makes people happy. Thus, this way to transmit a message is, for Jal and surely for many others, inspiring and delivering.

The documentary showed several gruesome images of the events that took place in Sudan. Were you aware of the problems that are/were occurring in Africa? Why do you think that the media does not focus on these issues?

When a war child make it to adulthood, it have many repercussions. A child that was taking at a young age to learn violence and to kill people, will only know that. Therefore, when he will be face with a problem later on, he will solve his problems with what he knows: violence. Also, since he was fighting a war during the period he was supposed to go to school, he miss on the time where you can learn the most. In the future, his education will be less than the other children, or he would even never go to school.

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