This is Freddie after our local peacebuilding partner Henri rescued him from life as a child soldier.
At just 11 years old Freddie was the youngest of the group of boys Henri released from the clutches of the Mai-Mai. He had been in the bush for five years.
Congolese rebel groups recruit thousands of children, forcing them to fight.
There were 700 in Freddie’s unit, some younger than him and at least 100 girls.
In the camp Freddie was made responsible for mixing drugs for the soldiers. They believed these drugs gave them magical powers so that they could turn stones into bullets and would make the children fearless in the face of battle.
No child should ever have to witness the violence these children were subjected to.
Henri risks his life by walking into the militia camps to negotiate with the commander to release children like Freddie.
He saw the horrifying weapons that the commanders give to the children so that they can fight.
Henri successfully removed the children from the horrors of war. He secured Freddie’s release along with a group of other boys forced to become soldiers. He took them to a safe place with his organisation, the Centre Résolution Conflits (CRC).
After so many years in the bush Freddie was the most quiet and withdrawn of the children. Life as a child under the militia had traumatised him.
This is why Henri and a CRC volunteer needed to give Freddie and the other boys trauma counselling.
This is essential to help reintegrate them back into normal life.
They were given new, clean clothes and the freedom to play as young boys should.
It was now time for Freddie to be reunited with his family. Henri met with them to prepare them for Freddie’s return.
Freddie’s family was overjoyed. He was finally back with his mother.
With Henri’s help Freddie now has a job as an apprentice at a bakery. His job is to knead the dough, stoke the fire and put the bread in the oven.
He can earn $3 a day, a small amount but enough to support himself until he can start school.
This is now the most important thing for Freddie – to have access to an education he missed in the militia.
Without Henri and CRC, Freddie would still be a child soldier. Instead, he has been given the chance to regain his life.
Henri budgets just £21 for each child like Freddie, enough to provide clean clothes, travel costs, and some basic training in a skill so the children can support themselves. Make a donation today and you could give more children back their childhood.
With thanks to Fiona Lloyd-Davis for providing these wonderful pictures of Freddie.