Former child soldier Michel Chikwanine tells his story of capture and escape at Xavier on Monday

Speakers from Free the Children focus on young people's ability to be agents of change in the world | February 20, 2009

Michel Chikwanine, a political refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, shares his story of war, escape and hope at Xavier University’s Cintas Center at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 23, as part of the University’s Africa Awareness Week.

He is joined by Katie Meyler, of Scranton, New Jersey, who has been engaged in humanitarian work since high school. Both speakers work with the international non-profit organization, Free The Children, headquartered in Toronto.

Through his inspirational talks, Chikwanine, 21, encourages youth to be a positive force in the world and to believe in their ability to enact change. Chikwanine grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo amidst great atrocities, including the torture of his father. Carried away to become a child soldier, Chikwanine escaped and became a political refugee at the age of 11.

In 2004, after five years of hiding in Uganda, Chikwanine, his mother and younger sister were granted a one-way ticket to Canada by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They have made their home in Ottawa, Ontario, where Chikwanine attended St. Patrick’s High School and won the Spirit of the Capital Youth Award for Personal Courage. Recently he captivated a crowd of over 7,500 youth and educators with his keynote address at Free The Children’s National Me to We Day.

Both speakers focus on our capacity to be agents of change in the world. In addition to the speech, which is free and open to the public, Chikwanine and Meyler are holding a workshop for 25 local youth leaders of college and high-school age to teach them tools in social change and to provide them an opportunity to re-imagine social structures. The workshop, from 4:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m., is also sponsored by the Youth Empowerment Network. It is being held on the Xavier campus at no charge to participants. Local youth leaders or educators with an interest in attending should contact

For more information on either event, contact Gillian Ahlgren, professor of theology and advisor to the Youth Empowerment Network, at