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Central African Republic: Bertin’s Story

*all names changed to protect identities

Bertin’s eyes are focussed intently on the coin he slowly passes from hand to hand. Despite his strong gaze I get the impression his mind is really somewhere far away. When he speaks his voice is barely a whisper.

Bertin*, just 5 years old, recounts the day armed men took over his village

Every 30 seconds or so, he looks out of the window and scans the horizon. Every noise, no matter how slight, impels him to check his surroundings once again.

He is just five years old and one of the bravest boys I’ve ever met.

A little boy in danger

Through the window we hear a pickup in the distance drive past. I can make out the tiny silhouettes of soldiers perched in the back and on the roof. Bertin’s eyes stay on the car for as long as it is within view.

Then, in a hushed voice, he tells me his story:

“I don’t like them… the soldiers. They came to my house. They wanted my dad but he had run into the forest.

They were shouting and angry… I was scared. They asked me where he was but I didn’t know. They kept asking where he was, but I didn’t know. My mum was shouting.

After a while they left to look for him. But then they came back.

They pushed me around and hurt me. I was crying but they didn’t stop. They told everyone that if my dad didn’t come back they would hurt me more.

Then some other men came and said that they had my dad and they left.”

I ask Bertin if he is OK and he looks up and smiles at me. A sneaky part of me wonders if he can tell how shocked I am by his story – whether he is in fact being brave for my benefit.

A hopeful future

One of our Child Friendly Space Animators, who is helping Bertin through his experiences, explains that Bertin is making real progress and that not that long ago he wouldn’t have had the confidence to talk to me.

Bertin and I continue talking about his favourite games, playing football and the prospect of going to school when it reopens later in September. Every-now and again his eyes light up and his voice rises and I catch a glimpse of a less troubled little boy.

I’m sure it will be some time before Bertin is truly able to move on with his life, and the chances are he will never be able to completely forget that day. But it heartens me to know that our staff are now watching over him, gradually building his confidence back up, and that one day he will be a smiling, happy boy who can get on with his life unhindered by the need to take time, every 30 seconds, to scan the horizon.

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