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From the Classroom to the Congo

Author Caitlin Taub is an intern with the International Humanitarian Law unit of the American Red Cross, and is a rising senior studying International Affairs at George Washington University. Prior to the American Red Cross, Caitlin spent her junior year studying at the London School of Economics.

As a student of international affairs, I have studied global atrocities on a daily basis for years, reading books, writing essays, and attending class lectures about poverty, disease, environmental degradation, war, and the human suffering that emerges from these circumstances. But when I heard Jimmie Briggs speak at the American Cross, I saw these realities in a whole different light. I felt them.

Jimmie Briggs is an acclaimed journalist, humanitarian, activist and author of the upcoming book, “The Wars Women Fight: Dispatches from a Father to His Daughter.”  He spoke at the Exploring Humanitarian Law (EHL) Institute for Educators on June 26 as part of a 4-day training held in Washington, D.C. to provide resources to educators to bring the laws of war, also known as international humanitarian law, to the classroom and to their students.  Educators gathered from all across the country to participate and to learn about how they could bring the idea that even war has limits to their classrooms, and Jimmie’s keynote was one of the highlights. Briggs discussed the impact of armed conflict on women and girls and the personal experiences that led him to create the Man Up Campaign, a non-profit organization geared towards activating youth to end violence against women and girls. I was captivated by his accounts about his experiences in Africa, and from the silence of the audience while he spoke, it was clear that they were as well.

Jimmie Briggs’ exploration into the condition of women and children affected by war began during his career as a journalist. In this role, he traveled the world in search of stories for Life magazine and various other publications and news sources. As he described in his speech at the Institute, on one trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the mid-1990s, he found himself volunteering in a refugee camp for one day. He was responsible for giving babies at the camp either milk or water, with the mothers handing their children over to him one at a time to be hydrated. That day, according to Briggs, many children died in his arms, already too weakened by their malnourished condition.

Along with this experience, Briggs retold the story of the time he spent in a hospital in Uganda during another expedition to Africa years later, this time for ABC News. While talking with patients at this hospital, it was one female patient’s story that had the greatest impact on Jimmie Briggs’ decision to begin on a path towards becoming a humanitarian and activist. After being gang raped multiple times and witnessing her children’s murder right in front of her eyes, this young woman chronicled her entire story to Briggs in that hospital. In her face—Briggs poignantly told the audience—he saw the face of his own young daughter. It was at this moment that Briggs decided that through journalism alone he could not sufficiently give this woman what she deserved. Instead, he believed that he needed to find a solution to her—and so many other women’s—adversity. Since then, Jimmie Briggs has become an advocate for preventing violence against women and children by way of his Man Up Campaign and by exposing the violent realities of women’s and children’s lives around the world, especially during conflict and post-conflict settings.

Even after years of study, Jimmie Briggs’ speech made me realize that I was not immune to learning about these kinds of realities. Briggs tugged at my heartstrings, and his stories resounded within me. His stories brought clarity to my job not only here at the American Red Cross as an International Humanitarian Law Intern, working as part of a team working to help disseminate the “laws of war” to the American public, but also as a human being.

Briggs’ speech was a strong reminder to myself, as well as to others attending the Institute about the importance of protecting women and girls during and after war, and that even in war, there are rules that must be followed in order to safeguard against inhumane acts of violence.