Democratic Republic of Congo. Eric, 13 years old and 3 as a soldier, but dreams of being a mechanic
13-09-2023 | di COOPI

Democratic Republic of Congo. Eric, 13 years old and 3 as a soldier, but dreams of being a mechanic

My name is Eric, I am 13 years old and I have been fighting with the CODECO militia for three years. I joined this group to fight alongside my community and for our rights, but during this time I have been attacked many times and have seen several of my friends die in the clashes...."

Speaking is an ex child soldier who lives in the village of Tongu Due in Ituri province, one of the areas with the highest rate of children abuse in the world. Thanks to the support of the OCHA Humanitarian Fund, in the Democratic Republic of Congo COOPI also works to take care of children subjected to armed groups. Specifically, the protection component of the project "Integrated Multi-Sectoral Emergency Assistance in Nutrition and Child Protection for the Population Affected by the Humanitarian Crisis in Central Djugu", operating from September 15, 2022 to November 30, 2023, is aimed at providing transitional and long-term assistance to 300 unaccompanied children and 100 minors enlisted in armed groups.

A year ago, in 2022, I heard messages on the radio about NGOs that are working to recover child soldiers to reintegrate them into society and support them in this process. So, from December 2022, I decided to stop playing fighter and leave the frontline to join my family in the village ... but I didn't know how to end it".

Leaving the life of a fighter, for a minor who grew up with armed militias instead of with their parents, is not easy. Reintegrating him back into the home society, substituting weapons for a gainful and profitable employment that can give him a future, is even more so. Eric, however, got lucky:

One day, a woman came to my house to get information about identifying child soldiers.... She was from an NGO called 'Save Vulnerable Children.' I explained to them that I didn't want to go back to the bush and continue fighting... at the moment I would like to go back to school or get vocational training. So, they promised me that they would share my case with the NGO COOPI, who would come to see me at home to interview me".

In fact, after a few days, Victorine, a psychologist of our staff, visited Eric to begin a psychosocial counseling process with him. After three counseling sessions, during which she gave Eric guidance on his rights and opportunities for his future, Eric received $45 in financial assistance, as well as food rations and basic necessities such as clothes and hygiene products.

Since leaving the front Eric has returned to the village, where his parents live: his mother, a homemaker, and his father, a farmer. He plans to soon invest the financial support he has received in agricultural activities so that he will have a source of income and be able to help his parents. His dream, however, is to have the opportunity to study again and learn how to drive, sew or be a mechanic.

I am very happy with this support! This is the first time I have received such help from an organization... I am very proud of my new life and I really wish that other children I know would also consider leaving the front and enjoy a more peaceful life, with the opportunity to grow up with their families".

In the Democratic Republic of Congo COOPI has an operational presence in the provinces of Ituri, Kassaï Central, Kassaï Oriental, Haut Katanga, Lualuba, and Bas Uele in the areas of nutrition, health, and protection of minors and against sexual violence. With the Humanitarian Fund's Multi-Sectoral Assistance project, communities were sensitized on child protection, and to create a safe environment. To ensure confidentiality of reports, 18 listening points were set up in 24 health zones. Children who no longer had a family to take them in were then relocated to 163 host families, who, after being identified, were provided with mattresses, beds, blankets, buckets, cooking utensils and hygiene kits.