|© UNICEF Liberia/2007/Jalanzo|
|Children in Liberia learn agricultural skills as part of a UNICEF-supported vocational programme.|
By Adolphus Scott
KOLAHUN, Liberia, 3 July 2007 – On a busy dirt road in Kolahun City, Tarnue – a former child soldier – is being trained in auto mechanics at a UNICEF-supported centre for Children Associated with Fighting Forces. Close to a building that was destroyed during the war, Tarnue and his friends are learning how to repair car engines.
“I was taken away by the [rebel group] Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy at the age of 14,” Tarnue explains. “They made me carry ammunition on my head through the forest to the front lines. Later, I started to hold guns and began fighting against government troops.”
Since Liberia’s civil war ended in 2003, UNICEF has been working with various child protection partners to bring rehabilitation and reintegration services to war-affected children.
In additional to vocational training, the centre in Kolahun provides basic primary education. UNICEF has also provided resources for more than 1,100 teachers to give much-needed psychosocial counselling to former child soldiers.
“I saw plenty of my friends die along the way,” says Tarnue, adding that he witnessed other children being forced to become spies, cooks and even sex slaves.
Creating opportunities and fostering hope
“The objective of the programme is to create opportunities for self-development through training and apprenticeships," says UNICEF Representative in Liberia Rozanne Chorlton. She adds that the training programme, which lasts between six and nine months, offers the children a wide range of skills in agriculture, mechanics, carpentry, cosmetology and baking.
To reach out to more war-affected youths, UNICEF is currently working with over 700 Liberian communities on implementation of additional training and reintegration programmes. To date, almost 2,500 former child soldiers have graduated from these programmes, while nearly 2,500 more children in all but 1 of Liberia’s 15 counties are currently enrolled.
UNICEF and its partners hope that the skills gained by participating in this type of programme will create a smoother transition for the children, helping them ease them back to a normal life.
“I was ruined by the war in Liberia,” says Tarnue. “I had no hope and no future. But after I joined the training programme, my life has changed. Soon I will be working on vehicles to make a living.”