for National Geographic News
As the armies mass for a war in Iraq that could start at any moment, a steady stream of refugees fleeing from that nation pours into neighboring countries. A war would increase the exodus of Iraqi refugees by millionsswelling a worldwide population estimated at some 20 million refugees, half of them under the age of 18.
For most American children, if they are exposed to the war at all, it will be from the images on television.
However, in some classrooms in the United States and Caribbean countries, teachers will use the war to offer poignant lessons not just about the military violence of war, but about its devastation on people who survive it by running from it into the limbo of refugee camps.
To draw attention to the special plight of refugee children, the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees is sponsoring its third annual poster contest for U.S. and Caribbean students in grades 4-10 in public, private and parochial schools.
Posters, which will be judged and categorized by age groups, should be no larger than 11 by 17 inches. The poster should reflect the theme: "Shared Wishes, Shared Dreams: Refugee Youth and Us." The deadline is April 1.
Actress Angelina Jolie, the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador on World Refugee Day, will award winners. Entries will be on display at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C.
Jolie, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2000 for Girl, Interrupted, said that those who enter the contest should begin by thinking what they have in common with refugee children around the world.
"Refugee youth have the same wishes and dreams as children all over the worldto go to school, to play games and sports, to be surrounded by friends and family, to feel safe and secure, to have a home," said Jolie, who has traveled to several troubled nations in her quest to bring more attention to refugees.
In her journals, Jolie has written about the squalor of camps, finding it difficult to describe the conditions.
"I can't tell people what it is like to sit with wounded men and abandoned women and children all hungry and desperately trying to survive, holding onto what is left of their dignity, their self-worth, their hope."
Jolie said that one young refugee girl described to her dreams about a classroom with smiling school friends or a street without machine guns and a field without mines or a home with a mother and father and brothers and sisters.
The lives of such refugee children can influence their peers, giving hope that the next generation can seek peace.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES