Your generosity has been inspiring - now it's time to put the money to good use

The success of The Independent's fundraising appeal for child soldiers exceeded all our expectations, here's how your money will be spent...

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It is only two months now since my Air France flight touched down at the steamy, ramshackle airport in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic.

But so much has happened since that start of The Independent's campaign to save child soldiers there, that it seems like an age ago.

I was invited to visit by Unicef, to witness for myself their work, from negotiating the children's release by the militia generals to rehabilitating them back into their villages.

It was a trip I shall never forget: the brave Unicef women doggedly standing their ground in talks with the cold-eyed generals; the rebel soldier with the rocket-propelled grenades walking through a playground of laughing kids; the joy on the liberated children's faces when they safely arrived at the Unicef base, and the dancing celebrations held for every new arrival at the camp.

Over the following weeks, we ran a series of articles explaining how and why children have been so abused in this conflict. We described how Unicef persuades the rebel groups to relinquish their youngest fighters. We explained the complexities of undoing the brainwashing done to them and described the process of preparing their villages and families for their return.

And, of course, we asked you to donate.

This we did with a certain amount of trepidation. Fundraising experts warned us that this was not an issue to which the British public would respond: nobody had ever heard of the CAR, child soldiers were too controversial an issue, Brits would not give to a foreign campaign when the economy is so bad back home.

But we were confident that Independent readers would "get it", were sophisticated enough to recognise that Unicef's work was making a real difference to children's lives.

And my, how you proved us right.

We reckoned we could call it a great success if we raised £100,000.

But, as the campaign closed last night, the total was topping a spectacular £234,000, with further pledges in the pipeline.

That is by far the most this newspaper has ever raised for a single charity.

As the thousands poured in, your generosity completely dazzled me. As I kept saying to my colleagues here: what other country would be so generous to people so far away? Surely, I keep saying, this must be the most charitable nation in the world!

So, where will your money now be spent?

As we have reported, shortly after I left the remote bushland where the Unicef camp was, the 64 children who at that time were being cared for there had to be evacuated to the capital, Bangui, due to a sweeping surge through the area by the rebels.

Some of your donations will be employed keeping these children safe and completing their rehabilitation. When the military situation calms, Unicef will, thanks to your money, return to continue its work in the bush, liberating children, providing them with food, shelter and healing for their physical and mental battle wounds.

The money will also go into schooling or vocational training, giving them the skills to make a peaceful life. It will also go towards the laborious task of tracing the youngsters' families and carrying out the counselling both they and their brutalised children often need to bring them back together again.

In this land where it is so dangerous to be a child, you have made a real difference. Thank you.

Evgeny Lebedev is the owner of 'The Independent' and 'Evening Standard' newspapers. Follow him on @mrevgenylebedev. Although the campaign has now finished, donations can still be made to: www.unicef.org.uk/independent

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