In a forest clearing in eastern Congo. Kamberi is a 15-year-old in a red shirt, surrounded by a gang of young boys perspiring in the afternoon heat. He kicks a football in the dust as he talks to them, quietly yet with conviction. It’s a tranquil village scene – except for the machetes hanging from the belts of the boys, and their faded, outsized army fatigues.
These Congolese boys are members of the Mai-Mai Pareco militia, a group that relies on child soldiers to fight its wars. Kamberi was once one of them. He first picked up a gun aged 12. There are secrets in his eyes.
But his life changed in December. Kamberi heard a radio broadcast by Henri’s organisation Céntre Resolution Conflits (CRC), offering help to those who leave the militia and settle back into village life. Henri’s words gave Kamberi the promise of a future. It was enough for him to lay down his gun and find his way to CRC.
When children like this come to CRC, they lack skills or schooling to earn a living. The school year won’t start until July and without an income, many will return to the military life they tried to leave behind. So Henri starts by finding out what work they would like to do. The boys often want to become mechanics or drivers, and the girls to sew clothes or raise livestock. Henri finds and pays someone to teach them these skills. He budgets just £20 for each child, but this tiny amount is enough to start the children on the way to a life beyond violence.
Kamberi had missed three vital years of school while fighting in the bush. Now he has started a small shop, selling essentials like petrol and sugar. In just two months his life has changed beyond recognition.
When Henri talks of Kamberi, his voice is thick with pride: “This boy, he is helping so much – he has done so much good.” Kamberi knows how important it is that other children in his situation have the same opportunities. With Henri’s guidance, he journeys deep into the bush, to meet with other child soldiers.
In the village clearing, Kamberi plays football with the boys. They think he is just another child soldier. Kamberi begins to talk to them. He tells them how good life is outside the militia, how much they can learn at school, how he has been accepted back into his home village. It is the opposite of everything these boys have been told by their commanders. Within a week, nine of them have walked 90 miles through deep forest to reach the CRC office.
Those nine boys are now reunited with their families. Kamberi is visiting other villages on the edge of militia rule, reaching out to children trapped by fear and ignorance in a life of violence. And he is looking forward to starting school again this July.
Henri was able to give Kamberi £20 to set up his shop because of generous donations from people like you. Kamberi was able to save those nine other children – who are learning now to be mechanics, barbers and farmers – because of your support.
Henri has helpers like Kamberi throughout eastern Congo. The CRC is reaching some 5,000 militiamen. He wants to give every soldier an option for laying down their weapons, every village a chance of security in a region shattered by 16 years of guerrilla war.