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Children of War Tour Inner-City Classrooms in U.S.

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Boston--A 17-year-old Guatemalan girl lent a touch of realism to the Brighton High School culture club's discussion of U.S. foreign policy last week.

Xiomara Ramos, whose father's union activities caused "political problems" severe enough to force her family to flee Guatemala, spoke of bombs and violence and her opposition to U.S. arms shipments to Central America.

She was one of six young people from other lands who were visiting the high school here as part of a five-city tour designed to give U.S. students a broader perspective in their struggle against violence and racial hatred.

The Brighton visitors are among 40 children from war-torn areas who will be speaking to their peers in Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, Louisville, Ky., and San Francisco this month as part of the "Children of War" tour.

Their message is one of hope and personal commitment. As Xiomara told the Boston teenagers, "They can't do anything to us if we are united. I can attest to that now."

The tour is aimed, said Phieu Phu, an 18-year-old Cambodian native who spent years in a child-labor camp, at putting a human face on the episodes of violence American children read about in newspapers and see on television.

"We want students to recognize and be aware of things happening out there," he said. "Students know a lot of things, but say, 'Oh, well, it's not my life."'

At the same time, tour members said they hoped to link their experiences with those of inner-city youths who see violence on their own streets daily. That message was underscored by Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, who noted at a press conference that the youths' visit coincided with a crime wave sweeping the city.

"The timing of this could not be more important and the need could not be more obvious," Mayor Flynn said.

The tour that began this month was the third such trip sponsored by Children of War, a New York City-based organization.

'Long-Term Dialogue'

In 1984 and 1986, delegations of young people from war-torn nations traveled to some 35 U.S. cities on brief visits.

On the current tour, by contrast, the youths will spend more time in fewer cities, to work together with the American students more intensively, noted the Rev. Paul Meyer, national director of the Religious Task Force, an interdenominational group that sponsors the project.

"We are poised to begin a long-term dialogue between the children of war and young Americans, refugees and native-born, to nurture a new vision of hope in America's inner cities," he said.

In addition to the children from Guatemala and Cambodia, the 40 tour members included youths from the Middle East, Northern Ireland, Native American reservations, and U.S. cities.

Although some of the visitors, like Xiomara Ramos, are critical of U.S. policies, others represent a range of viewpoints, according to Rachel A. Poliner, director of the Boston-area chapter of Educators for Social Responsibility, which has prepared curricular materials for the tour.

In fact, Ms. Poliner noted, two children from Northern Ireland, who visited Boston's English High School last week, represented opposing sides of that country's continuing conflict.

During their tour, the 40 youths will be divided into two groups, which will spend several days in four schools in each city. The groups will also visit churches and community organizations.

In addition to the monthlong tour that began last week, the project also plans to create a two-year demonstration program in Boston, Los Angeles, and New York City, to create coalitions of young anti-violence leaders.

"You are here for us to take things one step further," Pat Barrett, the faculty adviser to Brighton High's culture club, told the youths. "We hope we can get more information from you and work on things in our own community."

'Sharing and Healing'

In preparation for their visit, officials from the Boston-area chapter of esr, a national curriculum and teacher-training organization, prepared materials that included information on the youths' home countries as well as ways of understanding violence and racism.

In addition, the sponsoring organi4zation prepared a videotape about the children, so that students could hear their stories before meeting them.

Even with the taped introduction, Ms. Poliner said, some of the stories are so harrowing that students were visibly uncomfortable when hearing them firsthand.

"It's not easy to hear the things they say," she said. "How students have reacted has varied. Some are able to take it in, others fidget and would rather not hear it."

"The goal is for students in the audience to tell their own stories," she added. "That's part of the process of sharing and healing."

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