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Born Into War: An Update from MADRE's Exhibit of Photos and Paintings by Former Child Soldiers

Last Wednesday evening, MADRE members gathered at the Salt Space in NYC for our event, 'Born into War, ' an exhibition of photos and paintings by former child soldiers in Colombia and Uganda.

The paintings and photos highlighted at the event were the result of therapeutic art programs for former child soldiers that were designed to mitigate the devastating effects of years of conflict. During the event, speakers Lisa Davis, MADRE's Human Rights Advocacy Director, and Andrea Parra, an attorney at Women's Link Worldwide in Bogota Colombia, presented on Colombia and the shadow report that we wrote with a coalition of Colombian human rights organizations. Anna Safir, a former MADRE intern who currently works with the United Nations, discussed the UN project "Welcome to Gulu."

Read more about the Colombia shadow report »

All of the photos displayed at the exhibition were sold in a silent auction. Proceeds from the evening will go to benefit MADRE's work on behalf of child soldiers.

MADRE would like to extend many thanks to all who attended and to those whose support was vital in making the event successful, including:

Amish Market
Food Emporium
Jacqueline Shao
Jacques Torres Chocolates Jay Butterman
The Morrison 
& Foerster Foundation
The Nut Box
Orwasher's Bakery
Starbright Flowers
Trader Joe's Samantha Schoer
Eleanora & Michael Kennedy
Laura Flanders
Anne Helen Hess
Craig Kaplan

See photos from the event »



Colombia's decades-long conflict has devastated countless communities and created entire generations of people who have never known peace. Thousands of children have been recruited by armed groups on all sides of the conflict. These children are virtual slaves; many are sexually abused for years. To ensure that conscripted children can never return home, armed groups sometimes force them to kill their former neighbors or even family members.

Those who have been able to escape are lucky. Through MADRE's partner organization, Taller de Vida, many former child soldiers have found healing, compassion and a community of caring adults who mobilize art to defend human rights and help children envision and build a life of peace. The photos featured in the exhibit brought that principle to life.


For over two decades, Uganda's children have faced the threat of being abducted from their homes by soldiers of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group operating in Northern Uganda. It is estimated that 90 percent of LRA rebels were abducted as children, and as many as 66, 000 children have been kidnapped over the course of the conflict. As in other conflicts, the children are often forced to commit horrific crimes against their families and communities in order to make them lose hope of ever having a life outside of the rebel group.

The UN Office of Drugs & Crimes (UNODC), in partnership with the International Criminal Court (ICC) Trust Fund for Victims, organized a workshop in Gulu, Uganda to assist in the rehabilitation of former child soldiers and abducted girls through art therapy. Artist Ross Bleckner traveled with the UNODC to Gulu to teach painting to young girls and boys. The children created art that represented their past sufferings and future hopes with brilliant colors and vivid shapes. After the workshop ended, UNODC brought the paintings back to New York, and Mr. Bleckner curated an art exhibition at UN Headquarters entitled "Welcome to Gulu." The Born Into War exhibit featured paintings from this workshop.