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Ada Scholar Adopts Cause of Child War Victim

By Jessie Fredlund ’07

Opiyo Ivan

Last July, when she first met Opiyo Ivan, an 8-year-old boy living on the streets of Gulu, Uganda, Jeannette Quinn AC’08 noticed much of his skin was covered in scar tissue. More than a third of his body had been badly burned, and his arms were awkwardly attached to his chest, inhibiting his ability to move.

Ivan, Quinn learned, had been a victim of one of the many raids perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel paramilitary group known for its brutal attacks in northern Uganda.

Though Quinn, who was working as a volunteer with war-affected children in the city, did not speak to Ivan (she did not know Acholi, Ivan’s native language) the boy left a lasting impression on her.

“I told myself I would not pass him by,” she says.

She didn’t. A week later, Quinn came across Ivan again when he approached her on the Gulu street. She located a translator and was able to hear his story for the first time.

Since that meeting, Quinn has become determined to help Ivan obtain the surgeries he will need to prevent permanent disability. With the help of Save the Children, a worldwide charity, Caritas Gulu, a Ugandan relief organization, and several of her friends in the United States, Quinn arranged for Ivan’s initial surgery at a Ugandan hospital. He will need many more before he turns 18.

Quinn with Ivan

Quinn applied to the Shriners’ Hospitals for Children to take Ivan on as a patient in the U.S. He was recently accepted by Shriners'.

To raise money for the boy’s travel and expenses, Quinn began the Opiyo Ivan Fund.

On Saturday, Nov. 4, the Smith African and Caribbean Students Association (SACSA) will donate proceeds from its annual SACSA Jam, themed “Celebrating the African Child,” to the Opiyo Ivan Fund. The SACSA Jam is a benefit that celebrates the food, art and culture of the African diaspora with a dinner, a multi-faceted performance and a party.

“It was a fantastic opportunity for SACSA,” says Arame Tall ’07, co-chair of SACSA. “We as African students on campus have always been looking for ways to connect with what’s happening on the ground, and Jeannette’s project gave us an opportunity to do just that.”

If the Shriners’ Hospitals accept Ivan as a long-term patient, he will live with Quinn until he turns 18.

His Story
When she first heard Ivan's story through an interpreter on the street, Quinn was heartbroken and moved to act on his behalf.

When Ivan as a 5-year-old boy fled the LRA attack with his parents, his mother was shot and wounded. Ivan fell into boiling water, causing his scarring.

Since that attack, Ivan has been unable to receive medical care. He has suffered physical and verbal abuse from members of his community, and in a society where children are expected to help their families economically, he has not been able to contribute to the family’s welfare.

Feeling ostracized, Ivan took to the streets of Gulu, where he met Quinn.

“Opiyo is a very sweet, gregarious, bright kid,” says Quinn. “He really wants to go back to school.”

Though his parents are still part of Ivan’s life, they are powerless to help their son, living with very few resources in an Internally Displaced Persons Camp in Uganda.

“They said that they appreciated that I had stepped in and given him an opportunity because they felt very defeated,” says Quinn of Ivan’s parents. “His mother said I was his second mother.”

SACSA members say they look forward to seeing Ivan at Smith—maybe even at their meetings.

“Our greatest reward would be if we were able to see him healthy and happy, walking around the streets of campus,” said Tall.

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