Department of Child Law welcomes back alumna Lucy Opoka
In the summer of 2021, Lucy Opoka was awarded one of the coveted Meijers PhD positions. In October, she arrived back in Leiden, where she obtained her LLM degree Advanced Studies in International Children’s Rights in 2019. Professor Liefaard interviewed Lucy upon arrival.
Welcome back Lucy. Wonderful to have you with us again. What is it like for you being back in Leiden?
'I am excited to be back in Leiden. I remember packing to leave two years ago and me and my friends being sad that the wonderful adventures that we had while studying and living in Leiden have come to an end.'
'It is wonderful for me to be back and working at the KOG building as it holds so many wonderful memories tied to my Master’s studies, for instance every time I walk past the moot court room I time travel to when I had to present there as an Applicant during the 2019 International Children’s Rights Moot Court. Almost every part of the building as well as the city holds a memory of a wonderful learning and growing experience for me.'
'Since we graduated, my colleagues and friends from the Advanced Master’s in International Children’s Rights Course have been discussing how we should all have a reunion in Leiden and visit the KOG building where we spent most of our days either in classes, at the library or working on our Master theses at the cafeteria until the building had to close at 11pm. It is now nice to be able to walk down the hallways and be able to recall some of the most significant experiences of my academic life but also experience it now from a different perspective.'
How does it feel to return to Leiden as a PhD researcher?
'It feels almost the same but slightly different because now I am back as a member of the staff and so I sit and work upstairs which before was where I came to get feedback on my thesis. I was nervous about joining the department and having former professors as colleagues because it is an interesting switch. However, it has been great and everyone has been extremely helpful, supportive and welcoming. In a funny way it feels like I never left because a lot is still so familiar and the new experiences are less daunting now that I am here than when I was imagining it.'
'It is also great to have the opportunity to live a dream that a year ago seemed almost impossible and also to have the chance to carry out research on a topic I am really passionate about.'
What is your PhD research about?
'My PhD research is titled ‘International Law as a Shield for Children during Armed Conflict and a tool for their Inclusion in South Sudan’s Peacebuilding Process’ and will focus on the meaningful and effective participation of children in South Sudan’s peacebuilding process.'
'Often times grave violations of children’s rights occur during armed conflict but are never sufficiently addressed during peacebuilding. Participating in or witnessing atrocities committed during war, is likely to have a long term impact on children. Whilst the focus is often on protecting children or giving them humanitarian aid during and following conflict, they are often largely left out of the peacebuilding process.'
'My research aims to highlight why children’s participation is essential in peacebuilding and identify best practices on how to achieve this by developing law-based policy recommendations and guidelines. Whilst South Sudan is a field study, I hope to produce a research output that can be used to inform peacebuilding processes in other post-conflict peacebuilding contexts globally.'
We look forward working with you. What did you miss and look forward to?
'I really missed the library access and just being able to be in that quiet study environment. I also missed the classroom environment and just being in an academic space where you meet people with various academic interests, where you can discuss and learn from them. Outside of the university, I missed “bittergarnituur” and all the pretty parks around.'
'I look forward to working and carrying out my research and just getting back fully into an academic space where I am completely immersed in my research. I am also excited for when I will have an opportunity to give a lecture as that is something I also see in the future of my academic career once I complete my PhD. It is always nice to engage with students, listen to their perspectives, learn from them as well as share with them my experiences. It will be a completely new experience but also very exciting for me.'