Unicef Logo and the text: Children Under Threat. The State of The World's Children 2005.

©UNICEF/Sudan/Debrah Bowers

A journey back to hope

Twenty-two-year-old Daniel Riong is a student at Rumbek Secondary School in southern Sudan and a teacher at the nearby Deng Nhial Primary School. But in an isolated community ravaged by 21 years of civil war, multiple famines and endless cycles of disease, no one finds this strange.

He is also a former child soldier.

Daniel’s story starts like that of many children from this semi-nomadic part of Bahr al- Ghazal. By the age of three, he was trotting alongside his father, caring for their cattle as they moved from place to place in search of pasture and water. When he turned eight, his parents enrolled him in school near their home village, several hours walk from Rumbek. By the time Daniel had completed six years of school, the war between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army and the Government of Sudan was at its peak.

Recruiters from Sudan’s Liberation Movement were deployed in each community to meet conscription quotas. And so at age 14, Daniel was forced to drop out of school, leave his family and join the army.

Along with 20 other new recruits, he was taken to a training clinic for medical personnel. After completing their training, the medics were distributed to battalions throughout southern Sudan. Daniel spent the next two years marching to various front lines, working to save the lives of his injured comrades.

He counts himself extremely lucky to have been one of the first groups of children demobilized from the front line in northern Bahr al Ghazal in 2001.

Former child soldiers in southern Sudan are rarely ostracized when they return to civilian life, because they were part of a movement that commands significant popular support. But that doesn’t mean that life outside the military has been easy. By the time Daniel was demobilized, his father had died and his mother and younger brother had been displaced by fighting around Rumbek, and had fled far into the government-controlled north of the country.

©UNICEF/HQ01-0358/Roger LeMoyne

From combatant to teacher

Daniel stepped off a UNICEF-chartered plane to a tearful reunion with relatives who had walked for two hours to welcome him. He was enrolled at the Deng Nhial Primary School where he is today a volunteer teacher.

“I joined school at the eighth grade and was the first candidate to graduate from Deng Nhial,” Daniel says proudly. He is now in Form 3 at Rumbek Secondary School, one of the few secondary schools in southern Sudan.

Daniel is specializing in biology and, not surprisingly, wants to be a doctor. “If I find a way, I’d like to go to medical school in Uganda or Australia where I have heard of good training programmes. But that will take a miracle. If I don’t have the power to do that, I will continue to be a teacher. The lack of teachers is a problem for us so I am happy to help out.”

In between his own classes, Daniel teaches mathematics and science to fourth and fifth graders at Deng Nhial.

He lives in a nearby settlement of thatched huts that belong to other former child soldiers and internally displaced persons. After school, he and his friend work to support themselves, cutting grass to sell for roofing houses and using the money to buy food. Every two weeks Daniel catches a ride to his family’s home area to visit his relatives.

On 26 May, 2004, the Sudan People’s Liberation and the Government of Sudan signed the final three protocols of a framework peace agreement. Daniel isn’t sure that the pact will hold, but says the signature has given everyone hope. “Especially me! Yesterday I got a letter from my mother and brother,” he says. “I have hope now that they may come back home very soon. That will be the best part of peace for me.”

Also in this section





UNICEF’s work on child protection [Web]

Adult Wars, Child Soldiers [PDF]

Children, Armed Conflict and HIV/AIDS [PDF]

No Guns, Please: We are Children! [PDF]

“A world fit for children is a world where every child has enough good food to eat every single day… A world fit for children should be a world where children have a Father and a Mother at home who love them ,know and respect their RIGHTS.”
young woman, 22, Ghana

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Estimated rise in the under-five mortality a “typical” five-year war: 13 per cent.
© UNICEF 2004