You have given them a second chance

Helping these children settle back into a normal life doesn’t happen overnight. But there really can be a happy ending

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Please donate to our appeal for child soldiers here.

When we first found out that The Independent had chosen Unicef’s work with child soldiers to be the subject of the paper’s 2012 Christmas Appeal I had a sense of cautious excitement. For me, as for so many of the staff at Unicef, the issue of child soldiers, and the individual children we have met, is something we carry close to our hearts.

But I knew it was a brave decision by the newspaper, for it is not an easy issue to talk about. We sometimes struggle to find the right ways to tell the true stories about the terror and trauma that these very vulnerable young people have been through.

(Click here to watch our playlist of videos about the campaign)

And it’s even harder to tell those traumatic stories in a way that can leave the reader with a sense of hope about what can be done, and with an urge to support this work. Often the tales are so graphic, so horrifying, so unimaginable, and the path to rehabilitation so long, you fear that it may leave people turning the page in a hurry, not wanting to hear of such terrors, or believing there is nothing they can do to help.

But this Appeal, and the response from The Independent readers, has shown that it doesn't have to be that way. Helping these children settle back into a normal life doesn’t happen overnight. It can be a long, painful process – as so many of the stories you have read over the past five weeks have shown.

But there really can be a happy ending. And thanks to your overwhelming generosity and support, many children in the Central African Republic who have had their childhoods stolen now have a chance to live again.

I honestly can’t thank you enough for taking the time to read these stories, for getting to know some of the children that have been featured, and most importantly, for deciding to make a donation. Your money will change lives, be assured of that.

There is one other very important thing I want to tell you.

Since the start of our Child Soldiers Appeal with The Independent, the security situation in Central African Republic has deteriorated. The advance of rebel forces on the capital, Bangui, has led to renewed fighting, forcing thousands of families to flee their homes.

My courageous colleagues, who are working with guts and determination to free these children from the grasp of armed groups – to care for them, and to give them a future – are now doing so in a war zone.

And they will continue to do so, because these children remain our top priority. Regardless of how dangerous and volatile the situation might become, their safety and wellbeing remains paramount.

The government and rebels are now in peace talks so there are some grounds for hope that the escalation in violence won’t turn into a full-blown humanitarian disaster. But please know that the money that you have donated is now all the more vital in making sure that our programmes for child soldiers can continue despite these toughened conditions.

Unicef relies entirely on voluntary donations for our work, and only with the kind of support that you have shown over the last month can we ensure that each child in Central African Republic has the chance to have the future they deserve.

And as soon as the violence is over you can be assured that our programme to rescue more children from these armed groups will resume.

So will our work to reunite the children already in our care with their families and also to re-integrate them back into their communities.

You should also know how hugely motivated and affirmed my brave colleagues in the Central African Republic have felt by your generosity and commitment to them, and to the children they help. They have been genuinely moved to hear of the response of the paper and its readers to the work they are doing.

At Unicef, we can’t end these dreadful wars – though, as you will have read yesterday, we also work at the level of international negotiation and diplomacy to put pressure on rebel groups seeking legitimacy to give up their child soldiers. But what we can always do, with your help, is make every effort to help the children who get caught in the crossfire.

Thank you to all those who have made a donation and in doing so assisted us to continue this work.

I applaud you.

And if you haven’t managed to make a donation yet, it is not too late to do so. Phone lines, postal donations, gifts by text and the donation website  will all remain open until the end of the month.

Every penny makes a difference.

David Bull is executive director of Unicef UK

All Unicef's work with child soldiers in the CAR is funded by donations. Please be as generous as you can. Click here to donate. Text CHILD to 70030 to donate five pounds.

• £6 provides life-saving treatment for one child from fatal diarrhoea, pneumonia, or malaria, all diseases that the children are vulnerable to in the Central African Republic

• £15 pays for schooling for a child who has been rescued from an armed group – including providing all the books and stationary they need.

• £25 provides a child with all the essentials they need when they are first rescued. This ‘welcome kit’ includes clothes, underwear, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, a blanket, mattress, and mosquito net.

• £62 provides vocational training to a child released from armed groups, providing them with a sustainable future

• £103 trains a teacher to help former child soldiers continue their education

• £150 pays for psychological support for one child who has been rescued

• £300 can buy enough toys for a centre for 50 rescued children to play with, to help them regain their childhood by having fun again

• £516 can support one child for a whole month. This covers the cost of everything they need at the rehabilitation centre, including care from dedicated and experienced staff, food, counselling, education, vocational training, and the costs for family reunification

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