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Torture survivor speaks for ‘voiceless’ victims
Uganda native David Walter did not choose to come to the United States.
He came fleeing from the torture he experienced in his country because he “likes to talk a lot” and because of his vocal opposition to Africa’s “corrupt government.” Now, he continues to talk, raising awareness of the horrors of torture. He speaks at U.N. meetings and more recently, to 120 students at Quinnipiac for the first event held by the Global Affairs Association on Tuesday, Nov. 9.
During the two-hour event, Walter spoke of his experiences as an activist and victim in Africa. In particular, he spoke of his time in government-named “safehouses,” which he referred to as detention centers. This is where he was held in stress positions while he was hit, kicked, lashed with live wire and tortured.
“They make you feel like you’re not living tomorrow,” Walter said to the audience.
Particularly, he spoke out against the treatment of women in society–how they are sold and treated as property by men. He created a non-profit organization to help them.
“I spoke for those voiceless women and children who can’t speak,” Walter said.
The abuse inflicted on Walter was intended to stop his opposition and make him join the government. He was only released from government custody because the party he belonged to created a campaign for his freedom.
Walter recently received asylum from the United States, allowing him to stay in the country because of threats on his life in his home country. He came to the United States for the third time this February and now resides in Washington, D.C.
Senior history and political science major Alaina Caliendo, GAA’s vice president of internal relations, was inspired to organize this event during her summer internship at the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition in the district. It was here that she met and worked with Walter.
TASSC is the only organization founded by and for torture survivors, Caliendo said. It was established 13 years ago by a U.S. citizen who had been tortured in Guatemala. The organization campaigns to end torture and support survivors by sending them around the United States to speak about their experiences. During the event, GAA raised $200 in donations for TASSC to continue their survivor assistance programs.
“When I was in D.C. and I watched David and the others speaking, it definitely changed my outlook on life,” Caliendo said. “These survivors of torture have such a beautiful outlook on life still after what they’ve gone through and I wanted to share it with everyone I knew.”
Caliendo contacted Demissie Abebe, her former boss at TASSC, with GAA’s interest in inviting a speaker for their fall event. Because GAA currently does not have a budget, Abebe waived the $1,000 fee and sent Walter to speak to Quinnipiac. Walter is now a human rights activist and volunteer for TASSC.
Senior political science major Adam Horgan, president of GAA, was happy with the turnout for their first event.
“I hope that it gives a lot of people a lot of perspective on the world,” Horgan said. “This offers a personal touch. It’s not reading it out of a textbook.”
He thought the event would be good way to promote the new group and what they are trying to accomplish on campus.
“We’re looking to bring speakers like David to show people the outside perspective and how much that affects us here at home,” Horgan said.
Junior English majors Amanda Lubin and Deanna Maytas found the event eye-opening.
“It’s interesting that he stood up for women,” Lubin said. “It made me appreciate our freedom a lot more.”
Caliendo hopes the event will spur action in the Quinnipiac community.
“I hope that this will get them all interested in GAA and realize they could take a part through their representatives and senators to get U.S. conventions ratified here to set an example for other countries who do it,” she said.