Eliza and Judy Dushku to keynote 'DEIS Impact Wednesday
Mother-daughter team deeply involved in effort to heal child soldiers
In Hollywood, she’s Eliza Dushku, actress, star of “Bring it On,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “True Lies.” Half a world away in northern Uganda, she’s Eliza Dushku, social activist, a co-star with her mother, Judy, in a real-life drama in which she’s helping to heal the people of a region terrorized by years of civil war.
“I can’t think of many places I’ve been in the last few years that have given me so much happiness and contentment,” Eliza says. “There’s no greater joy than being with my mother and helping the people of Gulu.”
The Dushkus will visit Brandeis on Feb. 6 to deliver the keynote address at 'DEIS Impact, the university’s second annual festival of social justice (Feb. 1-11). Their talk, “Uganda by Way of Boston and Hollywood: A Social Justice Journey,” begins at 7 p.m. in Levin Ballroom. The event is free and open to the public, but tickets, which are available at the Brandeis box office in the Shapiro Campus Center, are required.
Eliza’s connection to Uganda began when she joined one of her mother’s Suffolk University classes on a two-week trip to the war-torn African nation in 2009. The students wanted to learn about the rehabilitation of child soldiers, young boys and girls who had been taken from their families to fight against the government for the Lord’s Resistance Army and serve as sex slaves.
“I’d heard this phrase child soldiers before, but I didn’t know what that meant or how that was really possible,” Eliza says. “When you Google ‘child soldiers,’ it’s pretty terrifying.”
The Dushkus were shocked to hear the stories of these children – about 40 percent of whom were girls -- but also impressed by the resiliency of the people. Judy, with Eliza’s help, founded THRIVEGulu, a not-for-profit organization that is building and operating a center in Gulu to support the emotional healing and rehabilitation of traumatized victims.
“I decided that I had been teaching for 45 years, but I wanted to do something on the ground to really make a difference,” Judy says.
THRIVEGulu offers programs aimed at helping residents overcome their trauma through arts, filmmaking and storytelling. It also offers literacy and computer instruction classes designed to help them rebuild their lives.
Both Eliza and Judy have built close relationships with the people of Gulu. Eliza befriended Rose, a young woman with four little children who was kidnapped at the age of 9 and lived in the bush with Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony for 10 years.
“We helped her build a small house for her family,” Eliza says. “But more than building the house, it was the experience of spending a week and a half with her. She ran around with us and helped us collect bricks to build the house. She’s a young woman like me in many ways.”
Judy has become so friendly with one woman, Lucy Owl, that Lucy named her daughter Judith. Lucy had been abducted with her brother; she watched him die when he fell off a log while they were crossing a river and the soldiers would not let her attempt to save him.
“When I first met her, I thought that she would never recover,” Judy says. “When I came back the next year, she had started a group called Beads of Hope, which distributes beads in the United States. She also teaches women’s empowerment, and she has a Facebook site. She’s just so full of life and energy.”
As part of ’DEIS Impact, students, professors, clubs, and academic departments have organized nearly 40 different events, including talks, interactive workshops, screenings, performances, exhibits and discussions. Programs range from a former death row inmate speaking about his experience to a discussion of business ethics.