From Child Gunman to Social Educator: WFP food forges social cohesion and supports peace process in Eastern DRC
By Djaounsede Pardon Madjiangar — 29 August 2014
The protracted armed conflict in DRC which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives continues to negatively affect wellbeing and social development of children, especially those who were forced to pick up the weapon and fight for their lives. For those children, transitioning from child soldier to normal life is another struggle. To help them through, WFP works with UN and NGO partners to build trust and help the children get back on their feet. Pappy Chimalamungo, former child soldier tells us how a child soldier’s life can be transformed!
Pappy Chimalamungo was only 14 years old when rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) invaded his village, Mwenga, in South Kivu province. The rebels looted households and murdered villagers. Pappy’s father was amongst those killed in the attack. In response, a self-defence militia group was formed to combat FDLR rebels. Pappy, along with other boys his age, was forced to join the militia in 2000.
The boys’ main tasks were to carry ammunition, and fetch water and firewood. They were forced to walk long distances to collect fruit and steal food from other people’s farms. After three gruelling months under this tyranny, Pappy managed to escape and reunite with members of his family in Uvira Territory. To his horror and dismay, Pappy was intercepted by another rebel group in Uvira. He was told to join the rebellion or be killed. Again, the young boy’s only option for survival was to pick up a weapon and fight for his life.
Following a peace agreement with the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) in 2002, Uvira rebels finally agreed to disarm. Teenagers like Pappy were demobilized and handed over to the Office for Voluntary Action in Support of Childhood and Health in Bukavu (BVES). They were then transferred to a Transit and Orientation Centre supported by WFP, UNICEF and other partners. After three months of psychological counselling, Pappy re-enrolled in secondary school.
“I came out of the bush very weak because of hunger. But WFP’s [food assistance] gave me strength and courage to survive and continue with my studies,” Pappy says.
In 2007, he completed his secondary education and started pursuing a degree in Sociology at the University of Bukavu.
“I am interested in Sociology because I want to understand the drivers of human behaviour in a given society,” he says. “Understanding these drivers is fundamental in finding sustainable solutions to such social phenomena like armed conflicts and the enrolment of child soldiers.”
After his graduation in 2013, the 28-year-old came back to BVES as a volunteer to help other demobilized child soldiers.
“I am a real example of how a child soldier’s life can be transformed,” he said. “Children associated with armed groups most often think everything is lost and that they can no longer get back on their feet. I am telling them recovery is possible no matter what they have experienced in the bush.”
Since the creation of BVES in 1996, hundreds of thousands of child soldiers have been demobilized. More than 30 former child soldiers have made their way through university after completing a literacy training and psychological counselling programme supported by WFP.
While forced to fight, child soldiers loose contact with their relatives. As a result, transitioning ex-child soldiers are deprived of the stability and resources that had been a part of their former lives. During the first three brutal months after an ex-child soldier defects, they find WFP assistance is the most steadfast source of food and an important and consistent source to help restore trust.
While improving beneficiaries’ nutritional status, WFP food forges social cohesion between children—most of whom were rivals when they were soldiers. Every day, lunch becomes a time when these strong children chose to sit together over shared rations of cooked maize meal and beans.
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