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Congo, Democratic Republic of the

From fighter to builder: A successful reintegration in the Democratic Republic of Congo

WATCH: A successful reintegration


By Ndiaga Seck

For a former child member of an armed group, returning to community life takes determination and support, but the result is positive and enduring.

KIWANJA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 23 July 2015 - "I have a very good life now, but in the past, my life was hard. I couldn't even buy myself soap. If my mother didn't give me soap, I wouldn't wash my clothes,” says 19-year-old Ghislain Muhindo. “Now, I can buy myself lotion, clothes and soap. At times, I get a lot of money and buy my mother some food.”

© UNICEF DRC/2015/Seck
Ghislain Muhindo, 19, planes wood in his carpentry workshop in Kiwanja, North Kivu province. He learned carpentry after being demobilized from an armed group.

Just a couple years ago, however, he couldn't have imagined he would do anything worthy of respect in his community. When the rebel March 23 Movement – known simply as M23 – took control of the Rutshuru territory of North Kivu province in 2012, Ghislain was talked into defending his country. He was 16 at the time.

“Some men came to sensitize us. They told us M23 had arrived and we should fight them,” he says, hammering on a nail.

Ghislain and his friends were taken to the front line, only to flee when the fighting became fierce and their community defense group was defeated.

He recalls the hardship he suffered as a combattant. “We fled into the forest and started living in misery. Our chiefs would order us to loot neighbouring villages to eat, and when we’d get back, they’d eat everything, leaving us with nothing,” he says.

When Ghislain eventually managed to return to his village, he was approached by the Union for Peace and Promotion of Children’s Rights (Updeco), a local NGO involved in the effort to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate children associated with armed groups.

"Some people came to our house and told me that they were working with UNICEF. We gave them our names and they registered us," he explains.

Updeco helped young Ghislain reconstruct his life.

A new path

While being provided with psychosocial care and support within a foster family, Ghislain benefited from activities aimed at helping participants rejoin their community and earn a living.

"We help children choose between three types of reintegration activities within their communities. They can either continue their education, follow a vocational training or start an income-generating activity,” explains Updeco's Jacques Buligho. “If they choose to do auto mechanic, but there are no cars in their village, we encourage them to choose a different field of reintegration. We also train them in entrepreneurship and management to help them manage their project.”

© UNICEF DRC/2015/Seck
Ghislain sits next to his mother at home in Kiwanja.

Ghislain chose to learn carpentry, and today he is a carpenter, making cupboards and doors and polishing bed frames. He works in the same workshop where he was initially trained through the support of UNICEF.

Successful socio-economic reintegration mitigates the risks of re-recruitment. "When a child is successfully reintegrated, chances to see him go back into armed groups are very limited. Often, they earn enough to support their relatives without endangering their lives," says UNICEF Protection Specialist Ndeye Marie Diop.

According to Updeco, 1,352 children have been reintegrated since 2011, with an 80 per cent success rate. In 2015 alone, Updeco has assisted 226 children through the programme, including 27 girls, and reunited 131 children with their families, among them 17 girls.

“Children who learn a craft before starting to earn a living from it are very successful, because no matter what, the skills they acquire remain,” Mr. Buligho says.

Ghislain doesn’t want to look back. He sees a brighter future and works towards it.

“Today I'm very happy and don't even want to think of all that happened to me,” he says. “In the future, I'll be able to solve all the problems I face.”



UNICEF Photography: Released from armed groups

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