AT 16, Gabino Hernandez has plenty of war stories to tell. The El Salvadoran refugee has seen death squads, civil war. ``There is a lot of fear,'' he says of his country. ``They force you to go in the Army. If you resist, they'll kill you - take you away, and you'll never appear again.'' His father was a drug addict who abused his mother. After she died, Gabino fled to the United States alone. That was 18 months ago. Today, at Cathedral High School in Boston, he tells his story to an assembly of ninth- and tenth-graders as part a group called ``Children of War.'' The organization has brought together 42 teens from war-torn countries to combat violence, racism, and despair among youth in the United States.
Sponsored by the Interfaith Religious Task Force, a network of religious and peace groups, Children of War tours have met with more than 100,000 youths in the US in the past six years. The 1990 program is concentrating on New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. The three-week tour ends today.
These Children of War tell teens their often-emotional stories and initiate peer counseling. ``The purpose of the tour is to be a catalyst to get young people enthused,'' says Judith Thompson, national director of the Brooklyn-based organization.
The seven young people visiting Cathedral High today are from such diverse countries as Lebanon, Northern Ireland, and Mozambique. They aren't here for pity, they say, but to reach out to American students who face such warlike circumstances as racism, gangs, and violence.
The group's message to teens: You're not alone. ``The process of beginning to share one's hurt or pain ... is a healing process,'' says Ms. Thompson.
``Very painful, the things they were talking about,'' says Ernestine Reams, 15, a ninth-grader who lives in a high-crime area. ``You feel like `I'm lucky - I thought I had it bad.'''
Suffering can give way to triumph and the will to make changes. ``We work on the level that [young people] are real heroes inside,'' says Thompson. Out of such youth empowerment grows youth leadership, she adds.
Adam Donnelly and Anne Dyer are from Belfast. He is Protestant, she is Roman Catholic, and they are friends. Anne tells how her uncle was killed by the British Army. Adam talks about how he chooses to denounce the violence some of his peers engage in. ``You, too, have the opportunity to reject violence,'' he says.