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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Dushkus deliver keynote address of ‘Deis Impact

Published: February 8, 2013
Section: Featured, News

Actress Eliza Dushku, most famous for her role on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” and her mother Judy Dushku, a political science professor at Suffolk University, visited campus to deliver the keynote speech for ’Deis Impact, the weeklong festival of social justice events, Wednesday in Levin Ballroom.

The Dushkus are the founders of THRIVE-Gulu, a nonprofit community and rehabilitation center in Uganda that helps victims of war, sexual abuse and extreme poverty heal and rebuild their lives. The organization focuses on child soldiers, most of whom were taken from their homes and schools at ages 8-10, and forced to commit atrocities. Girls often suffered sexual abuse and many became pregnant at young ages.

Eliza Dushku spoke fondly about how her mother’s knowledge and work inspired her to get involved and become the activist she is today.

“My involvement in THRIVE-Gulu was not accidental,” she said. “When I envision my legacy, this is what resonates with me … the idea of people helping people.”

Judy Dushku, a political scientist who studies the effects of conflict, trauma and healing, would teach classes on war-torn nations. She was interested in the question, “What happens when a large-scale conflict ends, leaving behind thousands of people affected by trauma?”  Dushku would take her students to visit the country at the end of the course and her children would often come with her.

“When all my friends were vacationing in Hawaii and Cancun, my family always went where there was a revolution taking place, or where my mom was going to start one,” Eliza joked.

It was their most recent trip to Uganda in 2009, after Judy taught a class on the reintegration of child soldiers in society, that influenced Eliza’s humanitarian work the most.

The trip itself was a dangerous mission. At the time, Gulu, Uganda was labeled a “red zone:” a location not recommended for travelers by the United States or the university provost, but they went anyway.

She was especially moved by the case of a young boy who had “seen, done and lived hell,” and “came alive again” while he played soccer. Then there was her “sister” Rose, a young woman who grew “from victim to survivor to thriver” and “emanates hope.” THRIVE-Gulu built a house for her and her three young children.

The trip ultimately taught Eliza the lesson that “social justice is about solidarity.”

“These trips are about the common goal of building something together,” she said.
“It’s about showing how people can heal and develop dignity and a sense of self.”

Now, Judy Dushku says that Uganda is becoming a much different place. Gulu is now safer for foreigners, and the Ugandans served by THRIVE-Gulu are more interested in acclimating to modern life. She said that many of them learn computer literacy on donated laptops through programs at the center, and some are even interested in getting email addresses and joining Facebook—a sign that they are ready to connect and become part of a larger world.