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Congo, Democratic Republic of the

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow visits transit centres where children associated with armed conflict are getting a new start

By Guy Hubbard

BUKAVU, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 26 March 2012 – Under stormy skies, a hip hop crew known as the Flavour Boyz rap and harmonize to the beats of an African drum. Matching the weather, the boys’ lyrics tell stories of their tempestuous pasts – all five members of the crew had been recruited or abducted by armed forces or groups. They are now at a UNICEF-supported transit centre in Bukavu, recovering from their experiences.

UNICEF correspondent Guy Hubbard reports on UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow's visit to a transit centre for abused girls in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Watch in RealPlayer


UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow visited the centre, where she watched the Flavour Boyz perform and learned about their backgrounds. The boys all met at the transit centre, where they were brought after being released from a myriad of different militias across the region.

The leader of the crew, David*, is 16 years old, but he was just 14 when a militia attacked his village.

Life was a nightmare

“I was at home studying – I was in the sixth form – when the militia came,” David explained. “They grabbed me and took me to their camp. They made me become a fighter like them.”

Life in the militia was a nightmare. “It was difficult in the bush. There was no food and we slept badly, and our commander told us to attack villages and to rape women. While I was there, I fought in three wars. There were lots of people killed but somehow I survived.”

It wasn't long before the national army caught up with them. “The army came after us and the commanders just left us and ran away,” David said.

UNICEF correspondent Guy Hubbard reports on a group of boys in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, who sing about being abducted into militias.  Watch in RealPlayer


He was brought to Bukavu and, after spending weeks in prison, he finally arrived at the transit centre. Here, along with other boys freed from other militias, he has found sanctuary.

They live something like a normal life, playing games, washing and ironing clothes, and even going to school. David was also able to sing and write songs, something that he wasn't allowed to do in the militia. Each child will spend a minimum of three months here before being reintegrated into their communities.

‘Who could endure all that?’

Ms. Farrow visited the centre’s different dormitories. Younger boys sleep separately from older boys, and boys newly arrived from opposing militias are separated as well.

Ms. Farrow also visited a centre for girls who have been freed from armed groups. Many of them had been subjected to rape, sexual slavery or other forms of gender-based violence. At the centre, they receive counselling and vocational training as tailors or carpenters, skills that will offer them a means of survival after they leave.

The centre also has a nursery to assist the girls who arrive either pregnant or with children.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0097/Olivier Asselin
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow visits with girls attending a sewing class at a transit centre for girls who have survived sexual violence and other abuse, in Bukavu, DR Congo.

Ms. Farrow spoke with one young girl who had just arrived. “She was just 14 when her family were attacked and her parents disappeared. And the militia that attacked, at knife point, they raped her, and eventually someone took her to a hospital and they discovered she was pregnant,” explained Ms. Farrow.

In spite of her ordeal, the girl is determined to make a better life for herself and her child. “She wants to make clothes. She wants to be a tailor and, for her son, she wants him to be a doctor. And she wants him to have an education more than anything – a good education. Here's a young woman that’s so smart and so strong and so brave. I mean, who among us could endure all of that?”

Looking forward

Many children at the centre want to forget the past. But the Flavour Boyz sing about their experiences because they want the world to know what has happened to them and their communities. By addressing the past, they hope to create a better future.

“I sing songs about peace and songs where I tell the youth that they have to respect their parents. And I sing songs about the fighting and what we experienced,” said David. “I sing that we don't want to have fighting in our country anymore.”

*Name changed to protect the child’s identity



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