WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 (RNS)--Children caught in the crossfire of armed conflict around the world pay a steep price for the battles of their elders, often forced to sacrifice their bodies, their families and their lives tobattle. Worldwide, one child in four--some 540 million--lives amidinstability such as war, according to a United Nations Children's Fundreport, ``The State of the World's Children 2000.'' Within the pastdecade, 2 million children have been killed and 6 million wounded inarmed conflict.
In recent days, images of Palestinian children have been a media mainstay as Israeli and Palestinians battle. Palestinian say the youngsters are expressing the rage of their people toward Israeli domination; Israelis say Palestinian parents and political leaders shamelessly exploit the children for their own political gain.
Regardless, many of the more than 100 Palestinians killed and the thousands injured in the current fighting have been children.
But in the face of such a grim reality, faith-based organizationsare planting seeds of hope for the youngest casualties of war.
In southern Albania, for example, child refugees from Kosovo are waking from thenightmare of the region's civil war with the help of faculty fromAndrews University in Michigan and relief workers with the AdventistDevelopment and Relief Agency.
Faculty with the university's department of social work teach reliefworkers how to help heal the wounds of war, guiding girls as young as 8years old to recovery after brutal rapes, and coaxing others from thebrink of suicide.
``Part of the problem is that traditionally when faith-basedhumanitarian organizations have responded to relief work we have been sobusy feeding and distributing blankets and food that no one really hasever been there to listen,'' said Sharon Pittman, chairwoman of theAndrews University department of social work. ``It's extremely criticalthat those emotional needs get dealt with so that these kids will have afull emotional recovery--and that's what we wanted to do.''
Nearly 100 children have been helped through the program since itwas implemented in refugee camps last fall, said Pittman, who traveledlast spring to Albania to work with Kosovar child refugees.
``These children had lived through so many unconscionable things,''she said. ``Every child had seen someone killed and a lot of them hadbeen separated from their parents so they were in the refugee campsalone. It just breaks your heart what these children have beenthrough.''
Relief organizations in need of trauma counselors for childreneventually will have access to a list of graduates of the university'straining program, Pittman said.
``The goal would be to create a database of people who are certifiedmental health counselors that any humanitarian organization could callwhen they're responding to children living in a crisis,'' she said.``Making sure children get that sort of help is critical.''
Children orphaned by the long-running civil war in the DemocraticRepublic of Congo are the focus of efforts by United Methodists there toprotect children. Next month, the denomination will officially open anorphanage for children robbed of their parents by both war and disease.
``So many children have been left without parents because of thesewars,'' said Clyde A. Anderson, executive secretary for East CentralAfrica for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. ``Ourorphanages will help us protect at least some of the children from theatrocities of war in the country--and kids who have been orphaned byAIDS. These kids need a safe haven where they can sleep and learn.''
The orphanage is part of the denomination's $12 million effort tobuild orphanages and schools in war-torn regions in Africa. The buildingwill house about 150 children, and will also boast a learning centeropen to all children in the community, Anderson said.
``We're losing a generation in Africa to diseases like cholera,malaria, typhoid fever and HIV/AIDS, and if we don't reach out throughthe faith communities in a caring and spiritual way we're going to losea whole generation who are the gems of God's creation--our children,''Anderson said. ``Africa will only be sustained as the children arepreserved, and that's our goal--to preserve Africa's future.''
Children in eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa not onlymust brave war and other conflicts. Many also find themselves strugglingsimply to go to school. Some 130 million children--mostly girls--donot attend school, according to U.N. figures.
In an effort to boost school attendance, Catholic Relief Serviceshas thrown its support behind a United Nations proposal for aninternational school lunch program to feed the estimated 170 millionchildren in Latin America, Asia and Africa who do not have a schoollunch or breakfast program at their schools.
School lunches would not only improve academic achievement, butprompt more parents to send their children to school--particularlyfemale children, said Kenneth Hackett, executive director of CatholicRelief Services.