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At a glance: Liberia

Liberia: A new start for children associated with fighting forces

© UNICEF Liberia/2006/Johnson
UNICEF Liberia Child Protection Officer Alfred S. Mutiti presents a diploma to a young Liberian who’s completed a nine-month vocational training course for demobilized children associated with fighting forces, in the town of Buchanan.

By Patrick Slavin

BUCHANAN, Liberia, 1 March 2006 – The first of thousands of former child combatants have completed a UNICEF-backed rehabilitation programme to give them new skills for the future. One hundred and sixteen boys and girls have finished the nine-month training course in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County. Before receiving their diplomas they stood to sing, ‘I am on my way to the promise land’.

This coastal city was often the scene of conflict during Liberia’s 14-year civil war, and throughout this West African nation many of those associated with fighting forces were children.

“I thank God and all of my trainers for helping me to learn my trade,” says 17-year-old Sylvester, who was abducted at the age of 15 by forces of the former Liberian Government to fight advancing rebel forces of the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, or MODEL.

“It was tough,” he says. “I was taken to the battle front in Grand Gedeh County without any military knowledge. But I am blessed to have survived the battle and during the process I surrendered to MODEL.”

© UNICEF Liberia/2006/Johnson
Twenty-one-year old William specialized in masonry during his UNICEF-supported skills training programme in Buchanan.

Subsequent fighting brought him back to Buchanan where he remained until the war ended and was disarmed by the United Nations Mission in Liberia, known as UNMIL.

UNICEF Liberia is supporting skills training courses in all of Liberia’s 15 counties and is currently working to provide this training to 5,000 demobilized children associated with fighting forces.

“The objective of the skills training programme is to create opportunities for self-development through skills training and apprenticeships,” says UNICEF Liberia Representative Angela Kearney.

“The skills training programme includes options such as agriculture, animal husbandry, mechanics, carpentry, cosmetology, masonry, tailoring and baking. It also includes basic literacy and numeracy training, psycho-social counselling, recreation, and business development. Children are provided with tool kits for their trade to learn with and to use upon their graduation.”

The programme in Buchanan was funded by the Government of Japan, which has given UNICEF $6.78 million to help with the reintegration of thousands of children associated with fighting forces and provide a safe water supply to more than 225,000.

UNICEF is supporting two reintegration programmes in Grand Bassa County: the Skills Training Programme and the Community Education Investment Programme, which accesses primary education in government and community schools. UNICEF partners Don Bosco Homes and Buchanan Child Community-Based Care are implementing these programmes in the country.



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