Challenge Week 2023

At a January 26, 2023 meeting of the United Nations Security Council,  Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed noted that about 2 billion people–a quarter of the world’s population–live in places impacted by violent conflict. The United Nations Refugee Agency’s website reports that last year, in 2022, the number of people displaced from their homes, fleeing war, violence, and persecution, surpassed 100 million for the first time.  

For many of us here in central Arkansas, these conflicts may seem far away.  They are a newspaper headline or disturbing image we see on the internet.  The goal of this year’s Challenge Week is to not only bring sustained attention to two major global conflicts–Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the conflict in Syria–but to reflect on why global conflicts playing out over 6,000 miles away from Conway matter to us.  Why is it important that we’re aware of the destruction and suffering of places and people beyond our national borders?  What is our responsibility?  What should and what can we do, as citizens and as a country?

Challenge Week speakers, art exhibits, and workshops will allow our community to see these conflicts through the eyes of individuals who are working to find ways to bring these conflicts to just and equitable ends, many of whom have been directly impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or the conflict in Syria.  Each speaker will, in their own way, challenge us to make connections between here and there, to know and act.  

Below you will find a schedule of speakers and events, organized in partnership with the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF)SETF is a non-profit organization founded right here in central Arkansas in response to the Syrian dictatorship and its allies waging war on Syrian citizens.  (For more on the conflict, click here).  SETF is dedicated to ending the violence in Syria through advocacy, humanitarian initiatives, and building a case for war crimes.  

All events are free and open to the public.

From Syria to Ukraine: Seeking Justice

Former Ambassador Stephen J. Rapp

September 25, Monday
4:00-5:00 p.m.
Doyne Auditorium

Stephen J. Rapp is a Senior Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for Prevention of Genocide, and at Oxford University’s Center for Law, Ethics and Armed Conflict. A former Ambassador for War Crimes under President Obama, he has extensive experience investigating human rights abuses.  He is also affiliated with the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF).

Perspectives on Ukraine

Oleksandra Matviichuk & Anatoly Shatkovskyy

September 26, Tuesday
5:00-6:00 p.m.
College of Business

Oleksandra Matviichuk is a Ukrainian human rights activist and lawyer and is the director of the non-profit organization, Center for Civil Liberties based in Kyiv, which received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022.  Matviichuk has dedicated her career to pursuing pro-democracy change in Ukraine, providing legal support for protestors pushing back against government abuses, and on-the-ground documentation of war crimes committed by Russian troops well before the current conflict in Ukraine.  Matviichuk was named one of the top 25 most influential women in the world by the Financial Times in 2022 and was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time in 2023. 

A 2010 graduate of the UCA Honors College, Anatoliy Shatkovskyy is a Senior Analyst at Global Affairs Canada (Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development). As part of his role, Anatoliy serves as an institutional lead for Canada’s participation in the governing bodies of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, a leading UN agency with the goal to achieve food security and defeat hunger. Anatoliy has 10+ years in international development and multilateral governance/coordination, including stints in the NGO sector and in the private sector (where he spent three years in the field, managing rural development projects in Ukraine for a Global-500 company). He has also served as an advisor to a Ukrainian minister and to Canadian deputy ministers. In addition to receiving his BA in International Studies (summa cum laude) from UCA, Anatoliy has a Master of Public Service degree from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. He is fluent in four languages and resides in Ottawa, Canada.

This event is open to alumni and community members who are unable to join in person by using this zoom link.

A Life of Advocacy: Supporting the Pro-Democracy Movement in Syria

Mouaz Moustafa

September 27, Wednesday
6:00-7:00 p.m.
Doyne Auditorium

Moustafa is the Executive Director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force and a graduate of UCA, where he majored in International Relations.  Born and raised in Damascus, Syria, he came to the United States as a teenager and after college, he spent several years working on Capitol Hill as a staffer for Congressman Vic Snyder and Senator Blanche Lincoln.  He joined SETF in 2011 and is dedicated to advocating on behalf of the pro-democracy movement in his native Syria.  He meets regularly with world leaders and works closely with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Syrian whistleblowers such as the former military photographer “Caesar,” a key eyewitness to mass graves in Syria from 2011-2017.  (The “Caesar Exhibit” will be on display Thursday evening as part of Challenge Week.)

The Reality of Syrian War Crimes

Omar Alshogre and the Caesar Exhibit

September 28, Thursday
7:00-7:30 – explore the Caesar Exhibit 
7:30-8:30 – remarks by Omar Alshogre
Windgate Black Box Theater

Alshogre is Director of Detainee Affairs for the Syrian Emergency Task Force.  He was born in Al-Bayda, Syria and was arrested, at the age of 15, for participating in anti-government protests.  He was held for three years, experiencing intense torture and starvation.  After managing to escape, he fled to Sweden and in 2021 moved to Washington DC to study at Georgetown University.  He has spoken before the UN Security Council, Harvard Law School, the Human Rights Foundation’s Oslo freedom Forum, delivered a TEDx talk, and serves as a key witness in the prosecution of Syrian war crimes.  As he states on his website: “Speaking up brought me back to life.  It became my source of power.”

Alshogre will not only share his life experiences and perspective, he will help us process the Caesar Exhibit, which will be on display before his talk.  Caesar (a pseudonym) was a Syrian military photographer conscripted by the Assad regime to take pictures of civilians who died in military detention. In early 2011, he began to notice that these civilian deaths were a result of brutal torture and systematic mass murder by the Assad regime, and he started to smuggle the photographic evidence onto a flash drive. Eventually, his life endangered, he fled Syria with over 55,000 photographs stored on a flash drive in his sock. Caesar now lives in hiding outside of Syria and the Syrian Emergency Task Force, as custodians of these photographs, works to identify victims, witnesses, and additional evidence to be used to prosecute war crimes.  SETF has also curated this photography exhibit to spread awareness.

Taking Action, Making Connections

Challenge Week Workshops

September 29, Friday
3:00-4:00 p.m.
Student Center Ballroom

We end Challenge Week with a series of workshops that will help us work on the challenge of Challenge Week: how can we take what we’ve learned and act?

Workshop 1: Natalie Larrison, Director of Humanitarian Projects for the Syrian Emergency Task Force, will lead us in writing “Letters of Hope” and making crafts for children and teachers displaced by the Syrian conflict. SETF helped found and supports Wisdom House, a refugee school with over 120 children in attendance.

Workshop 2: “Human Library” with Chris and Vira Loux. In this workshop you will have the opportunity to spend time with a family displaced by the war in Ukraine: hear their story, ask questions about their experience and perspective, and connect.

Chris spent 7 years in Ukraine working for Josiah Venture, an organization that trains young leaders in 16 countries across Central and Eastern Europe. In his role, he helped local church leaders organize English, sports, and performing arts summer camps. Vira grew up in Lviv, Ukraine. In university, she studied music and became an accomplished flutist. For 10 years she taught music and conducted at the Lviv Children’s Music Academy. Chris and Vira met in 2020 and were engaged on Valentine’s Day 2022. Ten days later, Russia invaded Ukraine, which propelled them into a story with many twists and turns in Poland, the Czech Republic, and eventually, the United States.

Workshop 3: Lesley Graybeal, Director of Experiential and Community-Engaged Learning, will lead us in a Zine Making Workshop.  Zines are small, self-made publications.  Dr. Graybeal will help you process what you’ve learned during the week, make a statement, and brainstorm ways you can stay engaged through the zine-making process.