Alphonse* is 17 years old, and for a period of his life, he was a soldier in an armed group.
Alphonse now lives in the Walungu territory of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo with his parents and four sisters. After years of heavy fighting and despite occasional attacks, the region has been relatively safe for the last year.
His family is originally from another village, some 30 kilometres away. They had to flee when conflict first reached their village. This was when he joined an armed group. He was still a young boy then in his 4th year at primary school.
In early 2014, Alphonse decided to leave the armed group and after three months in a transit centre, was reunited with his family in Walungu. With the support of various donors including the EU, the NGO War Child works in this area to improve the well-being and development of boys and girls caught in conflict, including those associated with armed groups.
"I left the group by myself, but some of my friends are still there," said Alphonse when he enrolled in War Child’s programme. "Nowadays, I live in harmony with the host community even though life is hard for all of us. I get up in the morning, and go to the fields with my parents. Sometimes, when I need extra money, I go to the mines. That is when we really don’t have food in the house, and when I want some money for English classes. I really want to learn English. I also want to learn French. I then also want to learn how to read and write, and do some calculations, I’m getting ready."
War Child helps facilitate the reintegration of former child soldiers by organising catch-up education, psycho-social support and vocational training.
"I’m thankful to the host community that they selected me as one of the youth to take part in the vocational training. I’m convinced that this training will help me in my life, as I’m learning a skill," said Alphonse.
"I’ve stopped thinking about going back to the bush with the armed groups. I really don’t even want to go there anymore. I’m scared they’d force me to stay," – Alphonse.
In the beginning of the programme, Alphonse skipped going to the field with his family to attend training three times a week. His parents were very supportive and reminded him when he was to attend the lessons.
"For the choice of the specific skill I’d like to learn, I’m told they’re doing a market study to see what would be a good choice. When that is clear, I will know, but I would like to do mechanics, have a motor-taxi or learn carpentry."
When checking on his progress a few months later, Alphonse continues to take numeracy and literacy classes and to take active part in life skills activities organised by War Child. He’s no longer going to the mines and spends less time just hanging around, as there’s always school work to review. He’s happy with the progress he’s making and remembers the things he learned when he was still in school all those years ago. He is optimistic about the future and ready to start his practical training.
* Names were changed to protect identities.