Ending Violence Against Children in Panama

Last month, the Goldin Institute was represented by team members and global associates at the #EndChildViolence global forum in Panama City, Panama from May 8 - 11, 2017.  This event is the fifth global forum hosted by our partners at Arigatou International and the Global Network of Religions for Children.

PanamaSelect002Diane and Travis were joined by Community Learning Associate Jimmie Briggs and our global associates Lissette Mateus (Colombia),  Geoffrey Omony and Janet Arach of YOLRED (Uganda) and Emeritus Associate Dorcas Kiplagat (Kenya).  The Goldin Institute team shared insights and experiences on building grassroots partnerships and engaged in critical dialogue with faith-based leaders, advocates and youth ambassadors.  The team had deep expertise in the themes of the conference, especially the focus on the challenges and opportunities of addressing violence against children and youth including corporal punishment in schools, domestic abuse, gang violence and organized crime, as well as the conscription of child combatants.

Exceeding organizer expectations, more than 500 people attended the event which saw the issue of “The Panama Declaration on Ending Violence Against Children” -- one of the first multi-faith statements of its kind.

[slide] [img path="images/slideshow1.jpg"]Dr. Mustafa Ali welcomes the participants of the Global Network of Religions for Children.[/img] [img path="images/slideshow2.jpg"]Global Associates Geoffrey Omony (Uganda) and Lissette Mateus Roa (Colombia) discuss plans for 2017.[/img] [img path="images/slideshow3.jpg"]Jimmie Briggs and Global Associate Geoffrey Omony discuss plans for YOLRED Uganda.[/img] [img path="images/slideshow4.jpg"]Closing Celebrations with dancers from Panama’s leading dance troupe.[/img] [img path="images/slideshow5.jpg"]Dr. Mustafa Ali presents the Alone and Frightened report on Child Soldiers co-published with the Goldin Institute.[/img] [img path="images/slideshow6.jpg"]The Goldin Institute team meets with Ms. Lorena Castillo, the First Lady of Panama.[/img] [img path="images/slideshow7.jpg"]The Goldin Institute team meets with Ms. Lorena Castillo, the First Lady of Panama.[/img] [img path="images/slideshow8.jpg"]Global Associate Geoffrey Omony and YOLRED participant from Uganda prepare for session on the impact of the LRA conflict on children.[/img] [img path="images/slideshow9.jpg"]Jimmie Briggs helps document planning for East African participants.[/img] [img path="images/slideshow10.jpg"]Geoffrey Omony, Global Associate for Uganda, presents on the work of the Youth Leaders for Restoration and Development (YOLRED).[/img] [img path="images/slideshow11.jpg"]Founder Diane Goldin and Global Associate for Uganda, Geoffrey Omony.[/img] [img path="images/slideshow12.jpg"]Sharing best practices across the world.[/img] [img path="images/slideshow13.jpg"]Youth delegation from across the globe shares insights on how violence impacts children.[/img] [img path="images/slideshow14.jpg"]Reverend Keishi Miyamoto, the President of Arigatou International, shares his wisdom in a plenary address. [/img] [img path="images/slideshow15.jpg"]Youth leaders prepare for plenary presentation on the impacts of violence against children.[/img] [img path="images/slideshow16.jpg"]Pre-forum workshop for youth leaders. [/img] [img path="images/slideshow17.jpg"]Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela is welcomed by Reverend Keishi Miyamoto and Dr. Mustafa Ali of Arigatou International.[/img] [img path="images/slideshow18.jpg"]Sharing ideas for stopping violence against children around the world.[/img] [/slide]


[quote]The GNCR Fifth Forum created an opportunity for the Goldin Institute Representatives to interact with partners, Global Associates, and project beneficiaries from around the world. -- Dr. Dorcas Kiplagat, Kenya Global Associate (Emeritus)[/quote]

It was a special occasion to see former Global Associate Dorcas Kiplagat who is based in Nairobi, Kenya serving as Network and Programs Coordinator with Arigatou International, the primary host of the conference.  The conference was also hosted in partnership with the Goldin Institute alongside the Interreligious Committee in Panama, World Vision, Plan International, UNICEF, Norwegian Church Aid, COEPA and The Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children.

For Ugandan delegates Omony and Arach, it was the first time either of them had left the African continent. Both were viscerally transformed and inspired by the experience of being in fellowship with peers from around the world. Janet evoked deep emotions through public testimony of her journey from active combatant to ex-child soldier on the second day of the event during a thematic panel entitled Protecting Children from Violent Extremism, Gang Violence and Organized Crime: The Role of Faith in Communities. Her partner at YOLRED, Geoffrey, spoke eloquently of his journey to Panama and its lasting meaning:

[quote]Being in Panama marked an historical point in my life. Leaving Africa, traveling to another continent, I was just so happy to be a part of the forum and represent the voices of former child soldiers in Uganda. It was very impressive. -- Geoffrey Omony, YOLRED[/quote]

In addition to the panel format in which Janet spoke, the three days included parallel sessions on commercial exploitation and abuse of children, addressing traditional or ritual forms of violence and the role of spirituality in child rearing. Plenary sessions preceded those with remarks by a broad array of figures including Arigatou International president Reverend Keishi Miyamoto, H.R.H. Prince El Hassan bin Talal from Jordan, Rabbi Diana Gerson who is the Program Director of the New York Board of Rabbis and Dr. Mustafa Y. Ali, the Secretary Genderal of GNRC and Director of Arigatou International in Nairobi.

[quote]The Forum was a moment to reflect upon the work, that the Goldin Institute-Arigatou International GNRC partnership has continued to promote over the last seven years. The partnership has led to the transformation of many people’s lives in the greater horn of Africa, particularly in highly conflicted areas. My meeting with other associates like Lissette Mateus from Colombia reminded and re-affirmed in me our common humanity, that as much as we live in different continents, our challenges are similar. -- Dorcas Kiplagat, Global Associate (Emeritus)[/quote]

Marking her third trip to Panama, the Institute’s Global Associate Lissette Mateus left most affected by a plenary session on healthy parenting, perhaps as she herself is the new mother of an infant daughter.

[quote]The discussion by Susan Bissell, executive director of the Global Partnership and Fund to End Violence Against Women was most impressive. I think healthy parenting is the most important factor in dealing with violence against children. I was also a part of the Latin America regional meeting. Most of the participants were focused on sexual abuse in the community, but I explained that 80% of the violence against children happens in the home. It’s a cultural phenomenon that you see something happening to a child on the street but no one says anything. We must stop this type of abuse by changing cultural views.[/quote]

Congratulations to our partner Dr. Mustafa Ali and the team at Arigatou on hosting a meaningful and productive event. We look forward to the sixth forum!

Alone and Frightened: A Summary of our Report

alone headerIn the discussions about disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of children used as soldiers in the conflict in Northern Uganda, the voices and perspectives of former child soldiers themselves have too often and too long been ignored.

To restore these voices to the discussion and to improve the services for former combatants, the Goldin Institute and local partners trained a group of former child soldiers in "Community Based Oral Testimony" as a tool for gathering these stories and perspectives. Through this project, former child soldiers themselves led the research collection through interviewing over 150 of their peers and together reflecting on common concerns and shared aspirations.

The results of this groundbreaking research are contained in the report, Alone and Frightened. Equipped with this knowledge and the sense of solidarity developed through the research process, the former child soldiers are now at the forefront of convening the National Platform for Child Soldier Reintegration in Uganda as a network for coordinating the work of NGOs, government agencies, religious communities and other partners who are working together to promote reconciliation and reintegration.


[quote]Child Soldier definition: A child soldier is one under the age of 18 and part of a regular or irregular armed force or armed group participation directly indirectly. Child soldiers perform a range of tasks including combat, laying mines, and explosives; scouting, spying, acting as decoys, couriers or guards; training, drill or other preparations; logistics and support functions, pottering, cooking and domestic labor; and sexual slavery or other recruitment for sexual purposes."[/quote]

- UNICEF 2003


Former Child Soldiers Receive Certificates in ESPERE Reconciliation TrainingThis study describes the state of children affected by the brutal war in Northern Uganda pitting the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) against the Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF). These are stories of Former Child Soldiers (FCS), please use your discretion as these stories are both horrific and heart-rendering.

The study sought to achieve the following objectives:

  • To facilitate a platform for FCS to share their experiences and challenges of abduction and escape from captivity.
  • To establish the community and family perceptions and attitude towards FCS.
  • To identify gaps in the implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities/Juba Peace Agreement (CHA) (2006), agenda item V on DDR, the institutional mechanisms and the current state of FCS with regard to DDR.
  • To establish and highlight the locally-generated and FCS-based frameworks for reintegration.
  • The content scope of this research was to document and analyze the experiences and challenges of FCS with regard to their reintegration into families and communities within the CHA broader agenda item V.


A total of 180 primary informants were purposely selected out of 264 interviewed using the principles of participatory feedback and primary respondent-centered ownership of the research. Of respondents, 52% were male, and 48% were female.

Key Findings:

Females seemed more unwilling to respond to the the participation due to fear of being identified, fear of community reprisal or, a manifestation of inadequate or lack of psycho-social support.

    1. The majority of children abducted (58.9%) were 15 years of age and below, a clear indication of loss of childhood including schooling for many, in addition to horrifying traumatic experiences.
    2. Major health issues were identified among FCS including bullet wounds and fragments in the body, septic wounds, fistula, HIV/AIDS and cardiac problems.The physical scars or bullets lodged in their bodies has rendered some of them unable to find spouses or fend for themselves.
    3. Of the 87 females interviewed, 39 returned as child mothers.
    4. While 60% of the abducted children found themselves in the hands of Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF) and later reception centers, many (40%) did not receive initial counseling and support. Many experienced constant death threats, spiritual initiation rituals ranging from sitting on dead bodies to having sex with an older person, lasting 1-6 years in captivity. Thus, one can understand the extreme levels of trauma and lack of livelihoods among FCS currently.
    5. Large portions of FCS expressed concerns of psychological suffering and/or trauma as a result of their experiences in captivity, including but not limited to, nightmares, anxiety and fits of anger, as well as alienation, appropriation, dispossession, guilt, loneliness, and poor relation with others (aggression, shouting, commanding, etc.).
    6. Over half found either one or both parents dead. This means a sizable number returned as orphans, with a greater number losing their fathers.

To learn more about the next steps and the multi-sector network promoting reintegration and reconciliation, click here to read about the work of the National Platform for Child Soldier Reintegration and Prevention in Uganda.

The following slideshow includes recent ESPERE workshops featuring our colleagues in Uganda and Kenya. Many of the participants represent the aspirations detailed in the Alone and Frightened Report.

[slide] [img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_1.jpg"]Co-founder's Diane Goldin and Travis Rejman meet with Everest Okwonga, the Principal at St. Janani Luwum Vocational Training Centre[/img] [img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_2.jpg"]Co-founder's Diane Goldin and Travis Rejman meet with students at a trade school for former child combatants in Gulu[/img] [img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_3.jpg"]Co-founder Diane Goldin meets with students in a Gulu classroom during the Institute's June2014 trip to the region to take part on child soldier reintegration efforts[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_4.jpg"]Participants of a workshop conducted by Global Associate Lissette Mateus Roa take part in one of the exercises teaching 'forgiveness'[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_5.jpg"] Global Associate Lissette Mateus Roa (bottom left) and her group of ESPERE students. Also included is friend and colleague and Associate emeritus Dr. Dorcas Kiplagat (standing 5th from right)[/img] [img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_6.jpg"]Participants of the ESPERE workshop during a training session[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_7.jpg"]Global Associate Lissette Mateus Roa (standing) leads a training session in Gulu[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_9.jpg"]Global Associate Lissette Mateus conducts an exercise with participants of the ESPERE workshop in June 2014[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_15.jpg"]Global Associate Lissette Mateus (sitting foreground) leads her ESPERE training group[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_28.jpg"]Co-founder Diane Goldin meets with students at the St Janani Vocational School. The School is made up of mostly former child soldiers learning new skills (like carpentry in this classroom) to rejoin civilian life.[/img] [img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_27.jpg"]The workshop attended by former child combatants[/img][img path="images/slideshow/full/uganda2014_34.jpg"]Institute co-founder Diane Goldin meets with Ajok Dorah - a psychologist specializing in giving counsel to former child combatants returning to their communities.[/img][/slide]