The Change Begins with Us
As part of RET International’s effort to protect vulnerable youth in situations of conflict, a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programme was launched in 2012 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Through an encompassing approach including prevention, demobilization, rehabilitation, informal education, educational/vocational reintegration and support to community development, many ex-combatant adolescents have found the opportunity of leaving a life into which they were forced and re-discovering civilian life.
Since its inception, more than 500 adolescents have been freed, thanks to RET’s programme, funded by both the Governments of Luxembourg, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the German Federal Foreign Office.
After negotiations with the rebel group leaders, the ex-combatant adolescents are released from the armed groups. They, then, spend several months at the Centre for Transit and Orientation (CTO), which was set up by RET International in Uvira. There, these young people start a new life. They receive psychosocial and medical assistance and, after individual evaluations, are oriented to the best reintegration option. Following their orientation, they attend catch-up classes in formal education or vocational training, preventing them from going back to combatant life.
Given the context of the recurring armed conflict and the lack of livelihood opportunities in their remote communities, these youth once saw joining the armed groups as the best option. They referred to the popular saying, “chic eza rien batanga trop bazanga” which means “the studies are worth nothing, those who studied have nothing today”. Desperate and lacking viable opportunities, they joined the armed groups with the hope of having at least enough to eat. Yet, during their stay at the CTO, they learned the importance of tasting education, served to them differently and have regained motivation for studying. Thus, through various trainings provided by RET and our partner organisations, many adolescents have become empowered.
Fraja, Aksanti, Maombi, Faida, Miruho and Chance are five adolescents who were demobilised and successfully went through RET’s reintegration process in 2012. When they returned to their village, they realized the magnitude of underdevelopment, and became aware of the risk that other youth could fall prey to the armed groups. That is the reason why they decided to become active themselves. In March 2013, they got together and created a youth association called “Groupe de Protection pour la Paix,” (GPP) or “Protection and Peace Association,” with the aim of organising awareness raising activities on development, child protection, security, and peace.
The GPP is the first youth association in their community. They are increasingly sought as implementing partner by other local associations and international humanitarian agencies working for protection and community development.
Once trapped as victims and perpetrators in the cycle of violence, these five adolescents, together with other youth members of their association, have today become great agents of positive social change in their communities. They are involved in the prevention against the recruitment of adolescents into armed groups, as well as, against early and forced marriages. They assist local and international humanitarian agencies in demobilisation activities targeting other adolescents affiliated to armed groups. They also support villagers in creating income-generating activities, such as chicken or pig breeding and corn farming, and organising literacy courses for illiterate people.
Thanks to the various activities undertaken in their communities, they have become role models for the surrounding communities and youth. Their plan is to formally legalize their association and seek more partnerships with major international organisations active in their areas of intervention. The purpose is to fight together against the negative consequences of the conflict that has been characterising DRC for over 20 years, and to set up other antennas in their region and throughout the whole province of South Kivu.
At RET we cannot express enough how proud we are to see these young people becoming the leaders that are shaping the future of their communities. These positive results are precisely what keeps us motivated and passionate about our mandate and our work in fragile contexts.
Keep up the good work Fraja, Aksanti, Maombi, Faida, Miruho and Chance, we believe in your initiative and have high hopes for your future.