A new start for former child soldiers

"Rodrigue" with his bicycle. Espérance.

Central African Republic | 2022 | CBPF

Central African Republic, Alindao.  Four years ago, in 2018, Rodrigue*, then aged 16, joined an armed group in the hope of a better future. Bertrand*, also 16 at the time, joined to avenge the death of his father, who was killed during the conflict.

The two now divide their time between school and the small shops they run, thanks to a project supported by the Central African Republic Humanitarian Fund (CAR HF).

Rodrigue and Bertrand were among the 95 children and adolescents rescued from armed groups and reintegrated into the community in 2019 by Espérance, a Central African NGO, as part of a nine-month project to protect children and young people affected by the conflict.

Children who had been separated from their parents were placed in foster families, and communities were sensitized to ensure social cohesion. The youth returned to school in 2020 and received school supplies. They were also supported in engaging in income-generating activities to strengthen their self-determination and independence.

Rodrigue’s father had tears in his eyes as he recounted being reunited with his son. “I thought that I had lost my son when he joined the armed group. I was moved, when one morning – it was Friday 11 September 2020 at 10 a.m. – I saw him come back home, promising not to leave again.”

Since then, Rodrigue has been doing well for himself. He recently bought a bicycle with some of the income from his shop and is saving up for the future, hoping to enrol in university and become a teacher. “When I am at school, my little brother takes over the shop so that I don’t miss any customers. Our classes are at different times and this suits us,” he says, as he counts the day’s earnings.

Bertrand says the capital from his shop has been growing steadily, enabling him to buy a cassava mill, which brings in more income. “With the money I earn, I buy my school supplies and I have also enrolled my niece in school, while supporting my mother,”says Bertrand.

He points to his father’s grave next to the house that is now his family’s home. “Every time I saw this grave, I wanted justice to be done. That’s why I joined the armed group,” he says, adding that he has now learned  to control his anger, speak out and make the right choices, thanks to psychosocial support he received from Espérance.

Rodrigue and Bertrand’s families have lived at a site for internally displaced people in the town of Alindao since 2017, having fled their homes due to insecurity. Like them, more than 140,000 people still live at displacement sites across the CentralAfrican Republic.

* Name changed

More information on the Central African Republic Humanitarian Fund