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Lumen Scholar raises awareness of child soldiering

The abduction and abuse of children for the use of child soldiering is an epidemic in parts of Africa, and when Elon University senior Katie Meyer first heard stories of forced conscription as a senior in high school, she took action. Meyer is the eighth student to be featured in a series of E-net profiles on the inaugural class of Lumen Scholars.

Katie Meyer and assistant professor Prudence Layne, Meyer's Lumen Prize mentor.

Soon after her arrival on campus, the political science major and Leadership Fellow from Carmel, Ind., founded a chapter of Invisible Children to educate fellow students about the human rights violations taking place in Uganda.

Meyer parlayed her knowledge two years later into the Lumen Prize, where she continued her research into children’s human rights violations while advocating and raising awareness of war and child soldiering in various areas of the African continent.

That work culminated in a short documentary film, “Becoming a Foot Soldier for Children's Human Rights in Africa,” which she screened on campus this month.

“I’m hoping to share things people need to know,” Meyer said. “I want to show my community how we might approach African agencies to help. The idea should be to work together.”

Meyer, under the guidance of Lumen mentor and assistant professor Prudence Layne, used the prize to investigate human rights violations not just in Uganda, but also the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Liberia and Angola, among other places. She studied what she describes as the role of Western indifference and corporate profit motivations as contributing factors to war.

When I talk about issues, I get frustrated because some people seem to only care about Darfur because it’s trendy,” she said. “If you’re going to advocate for something, then be educated. I have a lot more respect for people and it legitimizes them when they know what they are talking about.”

The Lumen Prize, awarded for the first time in 2008, provides selected students with a $15,000 scholarship to support and celebrate their academic and creative achievements.

Lumen Scholars work closely with faculty mentors to pursue and complete their projects. Efforts include course work, study abroad, research both on campus and abroad as well as during the regular academic year and summers, internships locally and abroad, program development, and creative productions and performances.

The name for the Lumen Prize comes from Elon’s historic motto, “Numen Lumen,” Latin words for “spiritual light” and “intellectual light.”

As coordinator of the African/African-American Studies program, Layne encouraged Meyer during her freshman year to enroll in a course on African-American culture and history. Meyer wasn’t enthused with the idea because she wanted to focus her studies on Africa, Layne recalls, though Meyer soon agreed and has thrived in the program.

“What stands out at the end of this process is her awareness of the way in which people, issues and the world are connected,” Layne said. “I think what’s really great about Katie is that she realizes her research hasn’t ended and isn’t static. She has a base of knowledge that will continue to develop and shape her thinking. I’m more proud of her journey and how she has developed as a person than I am with the tremendous amount of work and knowledge that she has amassed, although I don’t want to discount that.”

Meyer spent time interviewing administrators and workers at several international agencies and NGOs, as well as African refugees at Avalon African Refugee Center in Greensboro, for her film. She said the documentary is not meant to make people feel badly but to inspire them and encourage them to contribute to humanitarian efforts.

She also authored a 75-page independent research paper addressing factors affecting child welfare, focusing on illiteracy, child soldering and mortality in African conflict zones, notably in Algeria, Chad and Uganda.

Meyer said she hopes people are impacted and encouraged to act out of humanitarian and moral desires to make an impact. “I hope people want things to get better,” Meyer said. “Africa has some of the richest cultures and traditions. We can learn a lot from their values. They have a better outlook on the way people should be treated than we do.”

After graduation, Meyer said she may enter the Peace Corps and would ideally like to be stationed in a French-speaking nation to continue advocacy for children’s human rights.

For more information about the Lumen Prize and other undergraduate research opportunities at Elon University, click on the link to the right of this page under E-Cast.

- Written by Sarah Costello ‘11



Eric Townsend,
5/9/2010 8:54 AM