Child soldiers in the DRC
The recent political developments have had major impacts on Save the Children’s Child Protection programme. As a result of the integration of the rebel groups into the Congolese army, many children are currently being demobilised, which is great news but has caused some major logistical headaches for our team who work to rehabilitate and disarm child soldiers. They have basically been working as a travel agency and a bus company in the past few weeks, reuniting with their family dozens of children formerly associated with armed groups who were staying with host families or in transitional centres, while also bringing newly demobilised children to these centres. Some days the team would reunify up to 70 children in several locations, dealing with terrible road conditions and other logistical problems. The whole team has done a great job, working long hours and finding creative ways to deal with the challenges posed by this situation.
After the reunification with their families, Save the Children provides support for these children with different options to help their reintegration into society and their future. The children can choose to receive vocational training such as learning to be a carpenter or barber, or training to work in shops or herd cattle, or they can go to school.
As for our work tracing the families of children who have become separated by the conflict to reunite them, we have also been very busy following the recent political events. Large areas previously controlled by rebel groups or inaccessible because of fighting are now safe, which allows us to reunify many children who had been waiting for months to finally go back home and be with their families. Last Tuesday I went along with our staff to reunify 12 children with their families. It wasn’t the first time I’ve witnessed family reunification but trust me even the second, third or fourth time it is still a beautiful moment that I wish everyone working for a humanitarian organization could have a chance to witness one day.
People here in eastern DRC do not easily let their emotions transpire, particularly in front of strangers I think, so there was no crying, no screaming, and no music like in American movies to tell you when you are supposed to smile or cry (I did look for a violin and piano player to make it more “Hollywood-friendly” but I couldn’t find any in those villages…). But I think the sobriety of the situation made it even more beautiful and moving. And the gratefulness that you can read on the parents’ eyes when they shake your hand and tell you “Thank you. God Bless you” is an image that I think I will never forget. It is moments like those that make it so easy to get up every morning and go to work without having to wonder why I am doing this job instead of making big money working in a bank or a trading company like most of the people I graduated with. And I hope that 20 years from now, when I am CEO of Save the Children UK (you never know?) and I am having a rough day, I will still have those beautiful memories from the family reunifications (and many others) to help me make it through the day.