Emmanuel Jal – War Child

By May 24, 2009December 14th, 2013Politics

Another session at the Sydney Writers’ Festival that I really got a lot out of was called The Message. The brief was ‘Is it possible that wars can be fought, even won, via non-violent mediums like film and blogs?’ and the three panelists were all fascinating.

There was Canadian James Maskalyk. While working with Medicins Sans Frontieres in Sudan, he wrote a blog about the experience, now turned into a book, which opened people’s awareness to what this organisation is doing, and also the scope of the situation in Sudan. There was Australian Benjamin Gilmour, who, in the tribal Pashtun area in North Pakistan, make a couple of films with the local people, including the acclaimed Son of a Lion.

The third speaker was probably the most remarkable. Emmanuel Jal, born in South Sudan, was removed from his family home when he was six or seven (he doesn’t know when he was actually born), conscripted to fight alongside the rebels in Sudan’s civil war. By thirteen he was a veteran. Then he was found and smuggled out of the country to Kenya by a British aid worker who adopted him and gave him an education. Now he is a rapping activist.

This is one of his songs I found on youtube:

All three men spoke passionately about their experiences, and were enthusiastic about the arts as a weapon against war. They presented it as something of a responsibility. Because the bad guys are using it to wage war. As British statesman Edmund Burke said “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil in America is for good men to do nothing.”

Another thing that they touched on is a question which has often vexed me. The amount of issues out there demanding attention is so numerous, like an ocean, and it’s hard to imagine what one person could possibly do. It’s overwhelming. What came out of the discussion was the idea of picking one cause or issue that you feel connected with and funneling the majority of your attention and time into that. And when other things come up, according to Emmanuel, just send some small splashes their way.

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