In 2008, Sean Carasso became an unsuspecting witness when he ventured into Eastern Congo – a place he planned to visit for only five days.
His friend had advised him that there was unrest in the area, and if he was able to find out anything interesting, to share it.
Little did he know he would come across an illegal prison for children inside a military base run by the Congolese government.
The children had originally come to the base to surrender; five boys of the countless thousands who were forced by rebel groups to fight as young as five years old. Once they were received at the military base, their circumstances changed quickly; as the government viewed them as hostile rebels.
Sean’s fixer*/translator explained the boys’ plight to him, and facilitated a dialogue between Sean and the boys. On his own, Sean began to do what any person accustomed to freedom and privilege would do: make phone calls. He stayed with the boys for eight hours – as long as it took for a UN convoy to enter the camp and extricate them.
Late that night in his room alone, Sean wrote in his journal – the kind of entry that happens when one experiences a true paradigm shift, when the glasses make your limited vision foggy, and you gain a greater perspective of the suffering around you, when you begin to feel your own insignificance.
Sean felt the need to connect, and shared his journal entry with a group of 60 colleagues, friends and family. His words had ignited a fire, and hit a chord; when he awoke in the morning, he had hundreds of emails, eventually, thousands all saying the same thing, “What can we do?”
Sean stayed in Congo for almost another month, trying to learn literally, from the people, why this was happening, who was backing this? The stories of the area’s unrest are traced back to the Belgian’s colonization, and the country’s vast mineral deposits. To create a solution, he had to trace back in time, and address the root of the problem.
When he returned to the States, Sean experienced a new feeling of desperation – while friends were hosting parties for his return, all he could think of was the number of children dying in what seemed a world away. He needed people to listen. Soon, one of his close friends did something that would change both their lives – he gave Sean an old whistle. The youngest children, who were too small to tote guns, were given whistles to alert of guerillas advancing. He told Sean to wear the whistle, and to keep the children’s cries in his heart.
The whistle soon became a symbol – not something people usually wear as fashion, it became a conversation piece – one that people soon found engaged them in conversation much more important than mundane topics.
Soon people wanted their own whistles, and Sean began to sell them literally from his pocket, using the money to help support visionary groups on the ground in Congo who were advocating for peace, and helping to rehabilitate the child soldiers.
Today, the result of Sean’s first journal has become Falling Whistles, a non-profit with a very simple premise: educate, disseminate, congregate, advocate, and rehabilitate. And while Falling Whistles focuses on Congo, its mission is that of world peace leaders of the past – that individuals can be whistle blowers for peace.
What can you do?
The Falling Whistles website has become a hub of information, and provides information to educate ourselves, and then congregate, and educate others. Consider starting your own Whistle Blowers discussion group.
Whistles are also available for sale, and proceeds benefit partner organizations working within war-torn communities. Consider purchasing your own ‘conversation starter’.
*(There are no “tour guides” in a war zone. There are “fixers” and “translators” and “drivers” who facilitate access for journalists and aid workers to sensitive locations.)
Photo credit: Falling Whistles
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