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Dreams of a former child soldier turned artist

© UNICEF Sudan/2012
Scenes from the Darfur conflict are among Issam's work

El Geneina, West Darfur, May 28 2012: Issam has witnessed some terrible things, but in his art he paints the world as it appears in his dreams.
"I'm inspired by nature and my immediate environment.  I also dream about what I want to see happen in the future,” says the 18 year-old, whose painting prowess was recently recognised when he won a national schools art competition.

“I hope I will have the chance to develop my artistic skills further, and turn professional some day,” Former child soldier, Issam “I hope I will have the chance to develop my artistic skills further, and turn professional some day,” Issam says at his home in Ardamata, West Darfur, near Sudan’s western border with Chad.
Issam’s bold and colourful paintings reflect his love for the land around Ushara -the village of his birth.  One of his paintings, showing an injured boy being carried by two doctors, stands out.
“I wanted to record the humanitarian assistance given to victims during the conflict,” Issam says.  The picture – the only one not in vibrant colours – hints at the darkest period in the teenager’s life.

Issam was abandoned as a young child to survive on his own in a region where conflict was part of daily life.  He watched friends and relatives, of all ages, being killed.  Struggling to feed himself, Issam decided his only chance of survival was to join an armed group.
“My job was to guard the weapons and food as well as transport items to the battle front,” Issam recalls.  His commitment and hard work made him one of the group commander’s most trusted messengers.

© UNICEF Sudan/2012
Some of Issam's paintings

The commander’s affection for Issam almost certainly saved his life.  When the harsh living conditions of the jungle began to take their toll on the the already-frail child, the commander sent him for treatment at a health centre.

It was there that he was spotted by a worker from the Child Development Fund, an agency that works with child soldiers.  It took days for the social worker to earn Issam’s trust and get him to talk about the horrors he had witnessed.

Once he was strong enough, Issam was reunited with his grandmother in Ardamata, where he returned to school and registered for a programme in carpentry and art.
Issam’s art skills soon won him admiration and he was asked to decorate the walls at Ardamata Secondary School – which led to his national competition entry. UNICEF has provided Issam with essential materials he needs for his art, including paint, brushes and canvases.
Unfortunately, Issam’s poor health meant he was unable to travel to Turkey for an art event which formed part of his prize.
But the victory has nevertheless given Issam many reasons to smile again; this year he will sit his Sudan Certificate exams.

“Nobody thought I had a chance to win the prize except me – at least I had some self-belief.  Some of my teachers thought I just wanted an excuse to visit Khartoum for the first time, but now it is now they who are little embarrassed,” he laughs.

 UNICEF supports demobilized child soldiers through:
• Psychosocial support (recreation, sports, drama and traditional songs)
• Skills training and socio-economic activities. Children are supported in basic, high school and university education; vocational training opportunities like motor mechanics, welding, food processing carpentry and handcraft.
• Income generating activities. Individual projects include small-grant vouchers to fund activities like petty trading, telephone centres, etc. Group projects targeted activities like grinding mill, petty shops and generator renting.
• Monthly monitoring visits by social workers to assess progress of reintegration of demobilized children



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