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François, a former child soldier making a new life for himself

At 18, François lives on the outskirts of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic and one of the most affected areas during the violent conflict that broke out in 2012.

francois_a_former_child_soldier_making_a_new_life_for_himself
francois_a_former_child_soldier_making_a_new_life_for_himself

“I was born in this neighborhood, I attended school here when the war started my school closed.

I was 15 when the rebels entered Bangui, our neighborhood was among the first attacked. They killed people indiscriminately. I lost my uncle, aunt and several neighbours. My father was a taxi driver, he was killed during one of his trips.

When I heard that self-defense groups were being set up, I decided to join them, to avenge my parents.

I was the youngest in the group. We were sent into the bush to begin with to handle weapons. I spent several months in the bush with the armed group.

I cannot relate all that I have endured in the forest as a child and a soldier. I can only say that it was very hard to bear. We conducted several armed operations in villages before returning to the capital.

After successfully taking the city, we were quartered on the outskirts. There was less fighting in the city. Luckily, I was able to find my mother. She wanted me to come home, but my chief did not want me to leave. So I only went to see her when I was hungry, to avoid robbing people for food.

One day, I met with members of an association that sought to extract child soldiers from armed groups. They put me in touch with Plan International. They bring together children like me, including girls, to give them training in different vocations.

I learned carpentry. After the training, we were found workshops in our neighborhoods to work in and they continued to visit us to make sure that we were coming to work regularly.

I was able to make some furniture that I sold, and used the money to start a small business. Currently I sell oil and condiments and continue with carpentry to help my mother who is in charge of the family.

I appreciate so much the peaceful atmosphere that we now live in. I no longer wish to return to war or live through the horrible things that I experienced while I was with the armed group. I am on a new path in my life with this new job, I see life in a different way. I now think about what I want to become. I want to have a family and count on myself.

I regret having lost all those years with the armed group. I strongly discourage any child from doing what I have done. It will not bring back their parents and they will experience horrible things.

Our group leaders do everything to get us back. They do not want to see us out of their control and free to have meaning lives.”

Plan International’s conflict recovery programme in CAR is funded by the European Union and implemented in partnership with a local NGO. We are working to identify and protect vulnerable children like François, to provide them with vocational training to help them increase their income and improve their lives.