Somalia, 2 April 2014: A young fighter for Al Shabaab turns his life around
2 April 2014, Somalia – When he was 15, Mohamed joined the Somali extremist group Al-Shabaab and was put in charge of a battalion of roughly 20 children, his age and younger.
During a fierce fight with the Somali National Armed Forces and the African Union peacekeepers, AMISOM, Mohamed and some other fighters were captured. He was severely injured and had shrapnel wounds on his face and body.
After staying in various military barracks for some months he was finally transferred to an Interim Care Center for children disassociated from Al-Shabaab, who have either been captured or surrendered. Mohamed remained attached to the group’s ideology and used his leadership skills to organize hunger strikes and try to ensure the other children did not abandon their commitment to Al-Shabaab.
He later said:“When I first came to the center, I could not trust it. I could not understand why these people wanted to help me, my first reaction was to resist.”
With intense psycho-social counseling, organized recreational activities, non-formal education and the help of religious leaders and social workers, Mohamed began to change. He became less aggressive and began building trust and friendships with other children and the staff at the centre. After six months he returned to his family.
“When I was leaving the center I was sad,” he said. “I did not want to go. I feared going back to my neighborhood and being spotted by the Al-Shabaab I used to work with. I felt safe in the center.”
Mohamed joined a socio-economic reintegration program close to his home learning electrical repairs and joining a football team. He became more sociable and made many friends. He travels to the centre by himself, feels connected to his community and is looking forward to his graduation ceremony.
“I know where I would have been if it had not been for this program,” he says. “ I would have been either dead or still fighting.”
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