|“We do accompaniment in two ways,” said Amharba Wenetna, a JRS social worker in Abeche. “One is the personal accompaniment of the children. We visit them at home with their families, in school and in vocational training. The other is to follow up with the children in the environment. We offer support and help to fully integrate with the community. We do this via social activities, recreation, school clubs and local associations so the kids are not left out and instead interact with other local children in a social way.”|
By Christian Fuchs
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA
(Abeche, Chad) June 2, 2011 — In this hot and dusty town in eastern Chad, more than 500 miles from the capital city, Jesuit Refugee Service lives its mission of accompaniment by working with former child soldiers to help them return to a normal life after several years of conflict. The program also seeks to prevent any new recruitment of children into fighting units.
Ousman,* 18: I became a soldier when I was 14. I went with my brother and five others. We were facing injustice: we had seen our animals stolen and our friend’s parents killed. My uncle was killed, and my nephew was killed, so I became a rebel. I was the ‘chief’ of child soldiers; I had about 30 soldiers. Mostly we did kitchen work, but we fought in one battle. Now I am trying to support myself with this [roadside stand] and I am going to school. Only God knows about the future, God will provide.
Chad is a landlocked country more than twice the size of Texas. Current President Idriss Deby has ruled since 1991. Dissatisfaction with his long rule among many ethnic groups and tensions between Chad and Sudan caused by the Darfur crisis led in 2004 to a new threat: Chadian rebel groups found refuge in Sudan and support from the Sudanese Government.
Chad and Sudan soon became involved in a deadly proxy war as the government of Chad supported Sudanese rebels seeking to overthrow the Sudan government while the government of Sudan supported Chadian rebels intent on overthrowing Deby. Several Chad-Sudan agreements brokered by third parties failed from 2006 to 2008, which led the opposing governments to try to resolve their differences on their own. In January 2010, they agreed to end the proxy war by breaking with rebel groups, normalizing relations, and securing their border by cooperating militarily.
In Abeche, two JRS social workers help about 40 children. Each former child soldier is visited at least once a week, to ensure those who are enrolled in school are attending classes, and to learn if the business-owners are facing any new problems they may need help with. JRS acts as a mediator with the government on tax issues when former child soldiers start small businesses, or when they face harassment from local authorities. JRS organizes meetings with teachers and community leaders to ensure the former child soldiers are not being marginalized but are instead being fully integrated back into local society.
Marius,* 15: I became a solider at age 12, when five others and I joined a rebel group after our village was razed and looted. All of our animals were taken and our homes were destroyed. We wanted revenge, and to defend ourselves. I was a soldier for one year. As a young soldier, I had to look for water and carry it to others, and to help in the cooking. I was never in a battle. When my group joined the peace process they told us all to leave. I really enjoy being in school, and I want to continue. I want to be a doctor. JRS helps in many ways. They gave me school materials, notebooks and pencils. And they helped me get clothes so I could look like other children.
"We do accompaniment in two ways," said Amharba Wenetna, a JRS social worker in Abeche. "One is the personal accompaniment of the children. We visit them at home with their families, in school and in vocational training. The other is to follow up with the children in the environment. We offer support and help to fully integrate with the community. We do this via social activities, recreation, school clubs and local associations so the kids are not left out and instead interact with other local children in a social way."
In addition to regular schools in Abeche, JRS helps provide vocational training by placing the former child soldiers with craftsmen. One former child solider is learning to become a tailor, and when his training his complete JRS will provide him with a sewing machine, allowing him to open his own business.
In the Guereda region north of Abeche about 130 former child soldiers work with six JRS social workers. A professional training center has been established for the former child soldiers to learn vocational skills such as carpentry, sewing and auto mechanics. The one-year program is designed to help the former soldiers gain skills to allow them to support themselves when they leave the school.
Abdel*, 17: I was 13 when I went with about 10 others from my village to join a rebel unit. We did so for ‘revenge.’ The government had attacked our village; we were facing injustice and theft, no one was protecting us. Eventually my group joined the peace process, and our leaders told all the children we had to go, to go back to school. We were taken to Mongo to demobilize. Then we were taken to N’Djamena to a Transit and Orientation Center, and trained to again be like a child. I decided to come to Abeche to go to school, rather than return to my village, which had no school. My dream is to study as much as possible. I don’t want trouble, I just want to study. I want to be a doctor. If that dream does not happen I want at least to be in business and support my family and myself.
The former child soldiers seem to be responding well, and are asking JRS to do more. "With school holidays coming up," said JRS social worker Abakar Al-Khassim, "the children are asking for summer school, or other training: learning French or computer skills."
"I’m happy to be doing something good. I'm helping children, and I believe this is contributing to building a good future for them and the country,” said Abakar Al-Khassim. "I hope one day these children will grow into important people and will give back by helping others. Many want to become doctors; I hope one does and will one day take care of me or my children!"
*Names of former child soldiers have been changed for their protection.
202-462-0400 ext. 5946