Since 2002, February 12 has been set aside as a day to draw attention to the plight of approximately 250,000 child soldiers around the world. Children under the age of 18 are involved in numerous armed conflicts in countries including Afghanistan, Chad, Central African Republic, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), India, Iraq, Israel / Palestine, Myanmar (Burma), Pakistan, Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Thailand and Yemen. Some children are as young as 7 or 8 years of age.
Last year, hundreds and thousands of red hand-prints were collected in more than 50 countries and handed over to politicians and to responsible parties, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Many of these prominent people vowed to make changes.
But it is a long long road. And children are still being used as pawns in wars they know little about.
I’ve always felt that if you want things to change you need to be part of the solution. But you and I have very little control over things like war and horrid governments and rebel groups. But we aren’t powerless to help those who have suffered because of injustice. There’s many organizations that help these children who were once forced to kill or be killed. World Vision Canada has very well respected programs in several countries that provide things like medical support, counselling and education to help save a child of war. They work to help reunite children to loving families and protect others from abduction. And you can help by donating just $75.
So give up a cup of coffee each day this month to be part of the solution. Click here and you’ll go directly to the World Vision Canada website where you can make a difference. It'll make you feel good.
Thank you! Apwoyo matek!
It’s rather quiet at the Uganda Gulu Recovery Centre for former child soldiers. The three large tents, that housed thousands of children who escaped from warlord Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, are empty; the children having moved on, either to return to their families or to start a new life on their own. The kitchen that fed the workers, counsellors and the formerly abducted persons (FAP’s) is empty except for a pile of ashes left in the cooking pits and the only sign of life at the centre is a group of men sitting under the acacia tree, talking and enjoying a respite from the afternoon sun.
But don’t be deceived. Although Kony is long gone, hiding in the Congo or somewhere in Central Africa, and his army is greatly diminished, the effects of his twenty years of terror on Northern Uganda are still being felt. And although many of the children have undergone counselling and been reunited with their families and returned to school or developed a vocational skill, there is still much work to be done.
The time spent recovering after years spent in captivity is difficult. Families, who abductees were eager to be reunited with, often refused to see their children, thinking they were possessed by evil spirits or still capable of violence and committing other atrocities. Horrid canings and torture endured in the bush by the children were revisited in flashbacks that came as visions to the former child soldiers during the day and as nightmares during the night.
Though many children may now be free from the terrors of being a child soldier, they are not able to take up where they left off. There is no childhood to return to when your school books have been replaced with an AK-47.
That’s why it’s important to continue with the therapy, the gatherings around the acacia tree with a group or one-on-one with a counsellor, the vocational training, and sessions that create awareness within the community to develop an understanding of post-traumatic stress and encourage new beginnings.
And then there are the children who were born in captivity, children whose mothers were made to be “wives” of the generals and commanders in the LRA, who do not have an identity. They lack a recorded birth date and therefore a birth certificate. They are ostracized from the community, labelled as “Kony’s children” and teased and taunted by their peers.
There is still much work to be done at the Gulu Recovery Centre. Schooling, vocational training, counselling: all offer these children and adults hope, an opportunity to move forward and a chance to prove themselves. And that is why we must continue with our efforts to help the former child soldiers in Uganda. We can’t give them back their childhoods but we can give them a more promising future.
My journey as an author, giving voice to those who can't - or won't - speak.