In eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo where RET International is running its Demobilisation, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) programme with adolescents released from armed groups, lasting and sustainable changes are taking place.
RET International has often affirmed and repeated: “In a DDR programme, Demobilization and Disarmament is not enough. Reintegration, which requires the most perseverance, is the necessary step for returning to civilian life.” Transforming this vision into reality has been made possible thanks to the support of the Federal Foreign Office of the Government of Germany and the Ministry of Foreign Affaires of Luxembourg.
Passing through RET International’s Centre of Transit and Orientation (CTO) is a key step for youths’ successful reintegration. In the Centre, they receive advice, psychosocial support and counselling before being integrated into local school systems or attend vocational training programmes.
Given the diversity of youths’ backgrounds, mutual understanding and respectful behaviour can be troublesome initially. For example, upon arriving at the CTO those coming from the Highlands call those originating from the Ruizi Plain “viper race”. The two groups would in general not even share their meals together. Such inter-communitarian tensions are the source of numerous conflicts in the region and one of the root causes of the adolescent soldier phenomenon.
However, RET International sees these tensions not as an obstacle, but as an opportunity. They offer concrete learning experiences to address the underlying dynamics of conflicts.
Our team in the field with its psychologists and advisors, supported by partnering youth associations, bring these adolescents together. In the CTO they start to share the same meals and perform the same songs and dances despite cultural and linguistic differences. In short, the ex-combatants learn to live a harmonious inter-communitarian life.
When the time comes to leave the Centre and re-join their respective communities, the separation is often difficult. These same ex-combatants who did not even speak to each other a few months ago are now constantly asking our team for news from each other.
Having learned to overcome their differences despite prejudices is a lesson they will never forget. Moreover, it is thanks to such experiences that young people become credible ambassadors of reconciliation and peace in their communities.
RET International uses the medium of education to protect and reintegrate adolescent soldiers, but the programme goes much further as it transforms them into agents of change within their own communities.