Muhindo was just 13 years old when the Mai-Mai pillaged his village, stealing goats, chickens and other valuable items from his home in Eastern DR Congo. When the Mai-Mai returned several days later, to steal from other houses, Muhindo was so angry he decided to join a militia to avenge the attacks.
‘Life in the bush was all about preparation for fighting, the meaning of fighting, and teaching other children how to fight and kill’, he says. ‘We always had to follow the orders of our superiors, even when they made us do the very worst things.’
Muhindo was forced to take part in many attacks. Some nights his group would raid as many as five villages. They would also attack local traders, when their commanding officer demanded money.
‘We didn’t respect the property of other people, or even their human dignity,’ he admits. ‘I gave up all hope of ever living a happy life, and being so far away from my family, especially my mother, was unbearable.’
However, hope was close at hand. For about two months, Muhindo heard regular radio broadcasts about demobilisation, following the signing of a peace agreement between the government and the militias. He decided that if he got the chance, he would leave the bush and go back to his family.
Then one morning Centre Résolution Conflits (CRC), our local peacebuilding partner, came into the camp and spoke to the commanders. After several hours, the commander-in-chief summoned all child soldiers to his office, and asked if they wanted to leave the militia. ‘This was my chance to return to my community and rebuild my life,’ says Muhindo. But Muhindo was also worried. ‘Although I was so happy to leave the militia, I was afraid because of all the bad acts I had committed when I was in the bush. I thought the community would not accept me back.’
To help him re-adjust to life outside the bush, CRC placed Muhindo with a foster family for one week. Then they accompanied him back to his village. Although he was afraid his family would turn against him, they were delighted to see him. ‘They consoled me for everything that had happened to me, and told me to be brave, because there is always hope.’
However, this was not the end of Muhindo’s problems. The local army commander threatened him, because of his time with the militia, and he was taken in for questioning by the security forces. Only CRC’s intervention and mediation kept him safe.
Now Muhindo supports his whole family, because his parents are not well enough to work. ‘I am very busy every day raising ducks, and running my small shop, where I sell salt, and a little oil for lamps. This was all given to me by CRC for my reintegration,’ he says. ‘CRC restored my faith in life. But there are still many other child soldiers in the Mai-Mai. CRC must help them too.’
£21 could cover the cost of teaching a former child soldier a trade, so he won’t rejoin the militia. Make a donation today and you could help more children like Muhindo escape a life of violence.