'I will always remember the liberated child soldiers I met – and your generosity'

While these children’s stories were so difficult to hear, they were at least taking a turn for the better

Share
Related Topics

 

The expression “a life-changing event” is well worn, I know. But the visit I made to the Central African Republic last month will, without doubt, stay with me forever.

While visiting Unicef’s base in the war-torn north-east of the country, I saw the awful impact that soldiering had made on the fragile young minds and bodies of the children enlisted by cynical generals.

Their stories were many and gruesome, and have been told during our campaign over the past five weeks.

In particular, I will never forget skinny young Jean Claude, as I’ll call him, whose experiences in battle, and cruel treatment by his soldiering masters, led him to risk his life by escaping his militia. He arrived in the Unicef camp traumatised, having walked 200km through the bush with nothing but the clothes on his back.

Jean Claude told me how the soldiers came to his village when he was just 14 years old and press-ganged him and other boys into their ranks. During his time with the rebels, he and his young friends had been beaten brutally, forced to spend nights in a punishment pit for “bad behaviour” (such as laughing or playing games) and, worst of all, sent into battle to kill or be killed. Often, he would be attacking children as young as himself.

But, while these children’s stories, so horribly violent, may have been difficult to hear, they were at least taking a turn for the better. The youngsters were now all enjoying a life of play, school and peace, as Unicef prepared them for return to their villages.

Of course, the current unrest means that process may take many more months. But I know Unicef will do all it can to protect them from becoming swept back up in the violence again.

Many people had warned us that campaigning for child soldiers in a little-known African country thousands of miles away would be a wasted effort. “Readers will not respond. Charity begins at home,” they said.

But we at the paper strongly felt that these children’s stories urgently needed telling. When adults force girls and boys into lives of brainwashing, violence and rape, it is the worst kind of abuse and should be publicised at maximum volume.

We knew you would respond with interest and generosity. However, the extent of your kindness has surprised even us. Many thousands of you have donated, digging deep into your pockets during what I know are difficult times.

With more than £173,000 now raised, this one appeal has easily surpassed the total of all three charities we supported last year. Thank you so much.

While the campaign closes today, you can make donations by post, phone, text or online until the end of the month. So please, if you haven’t already, dig deep. Help Unicef give these children of war their childhoods back.

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are working with this secondary s...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We are working with a school that needs a t...

Recruitment Genius: Recording Engineer

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A long established media compan...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We are working with a school that needs a t...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Auschwitz death camp survivor Jadwiga Bogucka, 89, holds a picture of herself from 1944  

Holocaust Memorial Day: This isn't the time to mark just another historical event, but to remember humanity at its worst

Jennifer Lipman
John Rentoul outside the Houses of Parliament  

If I were Prime Minister...I would be like a free-market version of Natalie Bennett

John Rentoul
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea