I Hear Their Cries - Working with Child Soldiers
|In southern Sudan, Marie de la Soudiere, listens as a demobilized child soldier talks about his experience.|
In February 2001, the unexpected news came. The Sudanese rebels announced they would release 1,500 child soldiers. UNICEF called that day and urged me to rush to the scene to help the children. I've spent years working with war-affected youth. Of course I had to go.
In a southern town of relative safety, we started constructing a camp-thatched huts in small clusters where the children would live in a village-like setting. Caregivers would provide therapeutic care and recreational activities, while we set to work locating their families.
In the end, 3,000 children arrived-all with a desperate yearning to go home. A great deal needed to be done to begin their recovery and develop educational and vocational opportunities so that when they returned to their communities, their lives would have meaning. Without this, they are easy prey for re-recruitment. Gradually we began finding their families and preparing their communities for reintegration.
Then came word that rebels in Sierra Leone would begin releasing abducuted child soldiers. It was wonderful long-awaited news. The IRC already had a program in place assisting child soldiers who had managed to escape. Now we had to gear up for a new influx of children and all of them, we knew, would be extremely traumatized. They had been prisoners of one of the world's most ruthless and vicious guerrilla forces- bent on breaking their spirits and abusing them. And so our work began again, ensuring that these children had the right kind of care so that they could heal and one day rejoin civil society.
When I look into the eyes of former child soldiers, I often see two people. At first I see someone experienced in war-a tough survivor. But when I look deeper, I see the child-who has missed out on so much and who has lost their identity and their connection to family and place. I hear their cries-"I want to go home, I want to go to school, I want to be a child again." And at the IRC, we try to help them reclaim at least a part of their lost childhood.
Marie de la Soudiere is director of IRC programs for war-affected children.