Reintegration program for former child soldiers

8/04/2012 06:46:00 PM sendtheroths 1 Comments

The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don’t listen to it, you will never know what justice is. –Howard Zinn

How do you minister to child soldiers?
Amethyst sharing a laugh with a group of child soldiers.
Amethyst, and I recently went to Masisi territory (formerly rebel held territory) with two guests from the US. This trip was to survey and conduct assessment about the needs of the area specifically pertaining to former child soldiers. As relative peace returns there, hundreds of children have escaped the militias and are returning to their home communities.

The rebel groups recruit both boys and girls and force them to fight on the frontlines. Most of them become addicted to drugs, and suffer tremendous psychological trauma. The girls fall victim to gender based violence as well. 

Fortunate children somehow escape and return to their villages. The unfortunate, the Lord only knows.

An informal meeting with local leaders and officials.
We believe that these children of war are key to bringing peace and hope to their villages. Their stories are powerful enough to spread across the region and change the stigma that is attached to children of war. And when these children, who are naturally fighters (after all, they did survive) learn to fight with the weapon of love. Their communities will change.

Demobilized child soldiers make up the justice component of the training center, which is a multipurpose facility we are building in war regions to unite and rehabilitate the rural community. Our research has presented that children of war have no way of reintegrating with the family and the community. Few organizations help with the initial traumas of war. And none (in this region) actually reintegrate the child and family. Moreover, we found that there is no spiritual/social counseling either.

The solidarity of former soldiers
There really isn’t a manual on how to develop a rehabilitation and reintegration program for demobilized child soldiers. Sure there are other organizations to gather information from but as far as an evangelical, faith-based program goes… they are few and far between. So, we searched out leaders of demobilized child soldiers in the communities surrounding Masisi Center. This area was pretty much inaccessible when we first began our work in Congo. Today, peace is returning and we are running in to pick up the pieces.

A former child soldier and now a leader of one association

We found that some former child soldiers (who were fortunate enough to find help from other organizations) have begun their own informal associations. Village leaders appointed (maybe coerced) these older former soldiers to do something with the children... anything to keep them busy.

We met with six leaders from six different villages who were responsible for nearly 150 demobilized child soldiers under the age of 18. These are just the identifiable ones and not including those still returning even up to now. Everyday, these villages are receiving new children who have run away from their captors, sometimes bringing friends who are not originally from the area. 

The meetings would last for 2-4 hours. We asked for details about the behaviors of the children before and after the militia; challenges in the community; information about the militia that took the children; when they escaped; how long each child was captive and other child-specific questions.

We met with the child soldiers (who the leader was responsible over) face to face. Words can’t describe this social transaction that took place.

The Genesis
A picture after meeting with some former child soldiers.
All of these children are orphans and some lack even a
single relative to care for them.
Some meetings with these children were more general, others more intimate. One day, we exchanged dialog over bananas, biscuits and a game of cards: a way to get the children to feel more comfortable with us. We laughed and taught them new card games. And they taught us some of there’s. This is strange, because pastors in that region associate cards with gambling, and the thought of missionaries entertaining this type of behavior was not acceptable. But this is the beginning of love. We have to meet these children where they are.  If it’s over a game of soccer or cards or anything… this is how it starts.

The boys told us about their lives, which could only be described as hell on earth.

Andrew taking some time to share an encouraging
word with former child soldiers.
One boy told us that when the rebels come, he doesn’t run away anymore. He just hopes they kill him.

“I have no Mom, I have no Dad,” he said, “No one in my family is around anymore. Why did God take them all away and keep me here?”

When faced with these kinds of stories and looking into the eyes of these former child soldiers. The urgency of what we are doing surges through me. But then I look at the budget, the paperwork, the huge task ahead to make an effective, sustainable program that can benefit these children and this community.

“We are here to do research.”

Sounds so lame in the face of a child who wants to die, because he’s sleeping everyday in a forest. Who doesn’t eat and works as practically a slave on someone else’s farm because he’s not from that village. He has no one to fend for him.

But this is the beginning. This is what the training center is all about. This is who this training center is all about. God help us to get this thing started…

A picture of one community in the surrounding area of Masisi Center.

1 comment :

  1. Thank you so much for what you are doing. Praying that you have a wildly amazing harvest and that favor comes at you from every direction.