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Relating an experience unlike that of most school kids

Former child soldier Emmanuel Jal

Former child soldier from Sudan shares a positive message during anti-bullying event in Wellesley

It was anti-bullying week at Wellesley Public School and the school hosted a special guest on Nov. 20, to give students inspiration and motivation, working towards peace and respect for their fellow students and citizens.

Just after the lunch hour, students gathered in the school gym to hear Emmanuel Jal speak.

Jal is a former child soldier turned musician, actor and activist from South Sudan. He is one of the few who made it out of the child armies and now travels the world sharing his story of war and peace.

The presentation closed out the school’s anti-bullying week campaign, with principal Brian Morgan noting Jal’s message fits in perfectly with the lesson staff are trying to teach students.

“He is a former child soldier that has had a lot of experiences, met amazing people throughout the world,” he said. “We are really trying to promote Blue Friday, and the kids wearing blue for peace and safety. His whole presentation is around how we want peace and how we make that happen.”

Jal started by telling the students and staff about his experiences carrying guns and travelling through the Sudan, ordered to kill, all while just wanting an education.

Jal’s mother was killed when he was seven years old and his father joined anti-government forces – The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). He was left alone, and decided to follow other children making their way to Ethiopia to go to school. His trek was interrupted by the SPLA, who put a machine gun in his hands.

Over the next four years, Jal fought alongside other young men, and lived at a military training camp disguised as a school. He eventually tried to escape along with other children, and spent three months on foot, often going without food and watching his peers die during the journey. It wasn’t until a British aid worker, Emma McCune, found him and smuggled him to Kenya that Jal was finally able to go to school and get an education.

He has since thrown himself into humanitarian work, raising money for schools, refugees and street children, bringing the struggle of child soldiers and African poverty into the limelight.

His motto is: every person has a story to tell.

“When we tell our stories to each other, we are able to inspire one another, but also, we are able to put a light in that dark place,” he told the children at Wellesley Public School, hoping to inspire the students to achieve something big. “I believe somebody in this room could be the next business tycoon, or the next Prime Minister of this country or the next big thing. We don’t know.”

The message he wanted to leave the students with was one of hope, forgiveness and peace.

“When you forgive, you get a certain type of power,” he said. “It takes it to another level. When you don’t forgive, it is like you are swallowing a poison.”

He asked the students to define peace.

“Peace, to me, is everyone being nice to everybody else,” said one student.

“Peace is when there is no war and everything is calm and nice,” said another.

Jal built on those answers and talked about how the students could put those ideas into practice.

“If you see a bully, and you stop them and say, ‘you can’t bully,’ you have stood up for someone,” he said. “That is activism. If you report it to a teacher, you have stood up for somebody. You guys are smart.”

The presentation ended with every student and staff member in the gym standing and dancing together, promoting positivity and peace for all.

For more information about Jal’s story, to listen to his music or to see where he will be speaking next, visit www.emmanueljal.com.

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