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A Child Soldier Goes to School

Amani was kidnapped when he was 11 and for the next two years he was a child soldier, shooting his rifle in whatever direction he was told to. Now, at a WFP-supported centre in Goma, he is learning to be a normal adolescent.

Slim, graceful and stylishly dressed, a former child soldier flashes a thumbs up and dips a hand into a bowl of maize meal.

Amani Mofura shoves some into his mouth. He grins. A North American or European teen would spurn the glutinous meal but it beats the soldier’s fare of raw meat and rotten vegetables.

A militia group kidnapped Amani when he was 11 years old. Over the next two years he says he doesn’t know if he ever killed anyone. He just sprayed bullets in the direction indicated by his commander. “I just shot my Kalashnikov during the battles. It was a bad life.”

Five months ago the NGO Caritas rescued Amani and dispatched him to the Don Bosco Ngangi Youth centre in Goma. Thanks to the WFP food that flows into the centre's kitchen he quickly gained five kilos. 

Amani is one of 400 orphaned and separated children who sleep, go to classes and eat three meals a day at the centre. Another 1,200 displaced people – mainly women and children – cook their own meals using WFP food staples.

 “In 2008 we got perhaps 65 per cent of our food from WFP,” says Carolina Buglione, a project worker at the centre that is operated by the Italian-based Salesian Order of Don Bosco. “In 2009 it will be close to 100 per cent.”

The centre also provides regular meals for 2,600 local children who come to school from the nearby shantytown.

Each day almost half a ton of maize meal emerges from the centre’s cauldrons. Then there are the other foodstuffs – split pea soup, porridge, dried fish, fresh fruit and special high-vitamin high-protein food for 300 malnourished children.

 “Their mothers bring them to the centre every morning at 7.30,” says Buglione. Each gets a nutritional breakfast and then a lunch, all provided by WFP. Every seven days they are weighed. On Friday their mothers are given rations for the weekend.”

The Don Bosco centre is a one-stop care centre with a clinic and a cholera ward that was staffed by Medicins Sans Frontiers and handled more than 220 cases during the crisis days of November when fighting swept North Kivu Province.

When rescued from the militia, Amani received counseling from Caritas. Then he was put in with a group of boys his own age. He enrolled in classes like any typical adolescent. He now plays football and basketball and horses around with his friends.

Today as he waits for his assigned lunch time Amani exchanges slaps with his chums. That could be worrisome. He’s been taught to kill.

 “Former child soldiers are used to violence,” says Buglione. “Too often they settle disagreements with violence.”

But  Amani seems to have left that behind. Once again the pre-meal rough housing is only adolescent horseplay.