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Former Child Soldier Champions Hope for Children Associated With Armed Groups in Southern Sudan

@UNICEF Sudan/2010

Wau, March 17, 2010 - As the civil war in Sudan intensified around him, 12-year-old Abraham Kur Achiek left his home town of Bor in Southern Sudan with many other children. They were bound for Ethiopia where they hoped to find a better life.

The Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA), then a rebel group fighting against the government of Khartoum, helped Abraham’s group reach Ethiopia. He and the other boys were told they would be put in school and kept safe, but that was not to be.

Instead of finding refuge, Abraham was conscripted into the SPLA together with other children like him. From 1990 to 1993, Abraham experienced firsthand the dangers in the battle fields; dodging bullets, struggling to survive. Abraham calls these years his “lost childhood”.

Abraham and other children were placed in groups of nine led by adult commanders who used them as both servants and soldiers. They would wash the commander’s clothes, fetch him water, cook for him and sometimes carry his gun during the long trips they had to make, mostly along Sudan’s vast border with Ethiopia and Kenya.

Memories of starving and dying children are still vivid in Abraham’s mind.
“We walked thousands of miles, suffered hunger and thirst, were attacked by pro-government militias, air bombardment, and were even chased by wild animals and crocodiles while crossing infested rivers,” Abraham says. “It was only through the mercy of God that some of my friends and I survived this journey.”

In 1994 Abraham left the SPLA, walking across the border to the Kakuma Refugee camp in Kenya where many former ‘lost boys’ had settled one year before.

Until then, he had not heard anything of his family from whom he’d been separated since November 1987. In 1995, he learnt from others who were in the refugee camp that his father had been killed in an air bombardment and that their livestock had all been looted.

Abraham becomes emotional when thinking of the difficult life he endured while at the Kakuma Refugee Camp where he and his colleagues relied on support from the United Nations. Some of the children couldn’t bear the situation in the camps and decided to walk back to Sudan to rejoin the SPLA.

“They either got killed in the war or became wounded,” says Abraham. “But I just endured life there in the camp because I had already suffered enough in Sudan and so long as there were no more bombs falling from the sky, no fighting and no more guns to carry, I could find a way to continue living there.”

Abraham’s resilience and determination slowly but surely propelled him to complete his basic education. Then, in 2003, he finished his studies in social work in Nairobi, Kenya. This was, says Abraham, a turning point in his life.

His qualification as a social worker helped him obtain a job with World Vision in his home town of Bor in Southern Sudan.

It was during this time that Abraham met the woman he was to marry. Supported by his relatives, he and his wife married and together assume a new responsibility – not only caring for each other but also of caring for the rest of his siblings with whom he was now reunited.

At 34, Abraham who has worked with UNICEF for three years as a Child Protection Officer, has put his past behind him and now helps children in Southern Sudan who are still associated with armed groups to become demobilized and reintegrated into their community.

“By working for UNICEF, I hope I can act as an ambassador for children associated with armed forces and tell them that their association with the army will result in a bitter and regrettable life” Abraham says.

At the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, which ended Sudan’s 22-year civil war, it was estimated that 12,000 children were in the ranks of the SPLA. That number has now been reduced to an estimated 1,200, aided by former child soldiers like Abraham whose contribution continues.



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