A Second Chance - The Story of A Child Soldier

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
I originally wrote this for school when we were doing a topic on Child Soldiers in Society and History class.
I wrote from the point of view of the soldier, and i hope you enjoy it. :)

Submitted: April 01, 2011

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Submitted: April 01, 2011

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Introduction
This is a fictional story that gives a glimpse into what being a child soldier was/is like.
A Second Chance_________________________________________________________________________
 
I hear gunshot behind me. I quickly turn as I feel something whiz past my head.
My heart beats fast, my muscles twitch.
Then I hear a scream.
I know that voice.
 
I am filled with rage as I run toward the sound and ignore the groaning bodies I run past. But when I reach the spot where Damu was standing just a moment before, it is too late.
“You killed my friend!” I scream to the war engulfed forest.
I throw down the gun in my hand.
I want to escape—but I want to avenge, to kill.
 
Suddenly someone grabs me from behind, holding a gun to my head.
 
“Are you ready to die, little soldier?” I hear the resentment in his voice, the hardness, the cold hatred.
And then I hear him pull the trigger.
 
…………………………….
 
I wake up in a cold sweat—it is the middle of the night. Breathing hard, I look around the dark room only to remember that I am no longer on the battlefield, but at a transit centre in Paoua. It has now been 2 months since I last held a gun.
I remember the invasion like it was yesterday.
 
……………………………..
 
“And the solar system is made up of…? Yes, Jamil.”
“The sun, and the planets, which are…”
It was July 2007. It was hot in the cramped hut that was our school. In the distance I heard faint gunshots. The hostilities in the northern Ouham Pende province had been going on since May, but it hadn’t bothered our little village, Birao, which was more out of the way than others. We thought it would blow over soon.
The faint gunshots seemed to be getting louder. I stared out the window.
Suddenly I heard the marching. It was not loud at first, but soon it thundered through the village, echoed through the walls. The lessons stopped and everyone was still.
I heard the shouts coming from the village.
Shouts of protest—gunshot.
Then there were screams.
Sharp, piercing screams.
I felt the blood rush to my head—my heart pounded in my chest.
Then the marching came our way—came toward the school.
We huddled against one side of the room.
The marching stopped and the door flew open. Standing there was the rebel group—The People’s Army for the Restoration of Democracy—standing at full attention, looking at us with their cold, sharp, eyes. Then everything seemed to happen in fast forward.
They grabbed our teacher, Mr. Dacko, and forced him to kneel down with his hands behind his back in the middle of the schoolroom.
“Hey, you!” One of the commanders barked at Damu. He shakily stepped forward. “Grab a chair and beat this old man up.” He kicked Mr. Dacko. “Then maybe we won’t have to kill you brats.”
Damu stood still and stared at the commander.
“Well? Do it!” The commander shouted.
He picked up his gun.
Damu slowly picked up a chair, shut his eyes, and painstakingly hit our teacher.
We each had to have a turn. I didn’t know if I could do it—I could hardly bear to watch.
When the chair came to me, I looked at Mr. Dacko, hunched up on the floor, his clothes torn and his back bruised and bleeding.
I lifted the chair.
Then I dropped it. How could I do something so cruel? How could anyone?
But the commander became angry. He pointed his gun at me and I knew he wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
“Do it, or die.”
I wasn’t ready to die.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Dacko.” I whispered. As I picked up the chair, the tears blinded my eyes.
 
…………………………..
 
Mr. Dacko lay dead on the floor. I stood with my classmates, frozen with fear, in front of the rebel group as thy decided what to do with us.
Suddenly the commander said to us, pacing back and forth across the room, “You brats can join us, have food and shelter, and learn to fight for your rights, or leave and fend for yourself, and probably be killed, or stay here and burn with your precious village.
“Now that you have disgraced yourselves,” –he looked with distaste at Mr. Dacko’s body on the floor—“no one will wish to take you in.” He looked us in the eye with his cold, piercing stare.
I could already smell the smoke. Soon, I knew, the fire would spread from hut to wooden hut and only ashes would remain of this place I had known as my home. I could only hope that my family—our families—would get away.
And that if we survived the war, maybe find them someday.
 
I stepped up to the commander and—along with many of the others—said that I wished to join his army.
…………………………..
 
When I next open my eyes, it is morning.
I get out of bed and get ready to go to class.
 
……………………...........
 
I remember when I first came to the transit centre—I refused to talk to anyone, to go to class, some days I wouldn’t even eat. I suffered from withdrawal from the drugs we had been given. I got into fights—I stabbed teachers and counselors. I trusted no one.
I would have escaped had there been anywhere to go.
 
But they didn’t go away. They stayed—wouldn’t leave me alone.
 
“You don’t have to feel guilty or ashamed—it wasn’t your fault.” They said.
 
“Who said I was guilty?” I had retorted. I refused to talk for the rest of the session.
The next day she came back again.
 
“You know you can talk to me. You can trust me. I’m here to help you. But I can only do that if you help me.”
 
That was when I stabbed her.
I thought she surely wouldn’t come back this time—I thought I could prove that no one was to be trusted.
 
Three days later, she was back. Three days later, I finally started thinking about where I wanted to go, where life would take me. Three days later, I helped her to help me.
 
That was when I had been there for 3 weeks and 2 days.
 
Because three days later, with a bandage on her side, she said, “You are what you make yourself to be. Who you are is not determined by anything you did in the past. No one else can make you except you.”
 
………………………………..
 
 That was a defining moment. I realized I could let the past make me who I am today—or I could let it change me for the better.
I was 12 years old when I was recruited with the others into the APRD—I saw and witnessed things, did things, endured things no one should ever have to go through.
 
Especially not someone my age.
…………………………………
 
It was one week of grueling training at the army base camp. Along with my schoolmates, my friends, I had to march, run, crawl, and worst of all, kill.
 
 On the 3rd day of training, the commanders brought in the guns, rifles, and pistols, and handed them out.
 
Then they brought in men and women—villagers who had been beaten, their bodies bruised and battered—gagged and bound. Their eyes screamed in terror, screamed for mercy.
The soldiers and commanders lined them up 50-200 metres in front of us, the trainees—the children.
 
They ordered us to shoot. Shoot at the villagers—innocent people. Our ‘targets’.
 
The AK-47 suddenly grew heavy in my hand—the ‘target’ in front of me was someone I knew. It was my uncle.
 
I aimed the muzzle and put my finger on the trigger.
My heart was pounding, my eyesight fuzzy.
I heard the gunshot around me. I knew only too well what would happen if I did not pull the trigger.
 
 I squeezed.
 
…………………………..
 
It is afternoon now and time for my counseling session.
As I walk towards the counseling room I see a fight outside the window. It is among groups of newly demobilised soldiers.
Even from the other side of the glass, I know that if I were to look closer, I would see that same anger in their eyes, the same hopelessness and pain, the coldness, the hatred, from having seen what they—what we—have seen.
 
……………………………….
 
It was our first day on the battlefield.
They put us on the frontline. In my head, I was screaming, crying out, in terror.
Gunshot and smoke surged around me as I cowered in a ditch behind a bush, rifle ready in my hands.
 
It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that they had stolen my childhood away from me, from us. We should’ve been having our lessons and farming with our parents, learning the skills and the trade.
 
Not killing people.
 
I heard Damu silently crying next to me. We had grown up together—in the same village, the same school. He was the innocent one, the weak one, while I had always been the boastful one, loud and proud. Strong.
Or so I had thought.
 
Suddenly I felt the need to protect him.
 
I steadied the AK-47 and got ready to shoot.
 
……………………………
 
After the counseling session is over, I go back to my dorm to think over the session, and to write a journal entry about what I plan to do when I am allowed to leave the transit centre and possibly go back to my family, if I can find them.
 
I know that I want to finish my studies.
Possibly go back to the village, or other villages.
I want to help people—especially children like me; because I know that there are many who did not and will not get the chance I did—the chance to start again.
 
Like Damu.
 
………………………………
 
I heard the gunshot.
I felt something whiz past my head.
 
Then I heard the scream that was right next to me, and felt the blood splatter—on my back, my arms, my face.
 
Damu screamed for his mother.
 
It was the worst, most heart wrenching thing I ever heard.
 
His piercing, sharp voice full of lost hope, of pain, of regrets, of broken dreams—cut through me like a knife.
 
This war stole not only his childhood and his innocence—it stole away his life. His soul.
And not just Damu. It was the same for all the children—all of us.
 
That moment I swore that I would live for him—and all the other children—I would not let him down. I would survive this war.
Because somehow, amongst all this cruelty, this brutality and violence, I knew there must be something to live for.
 
……………………………
 
I did survive the war, but so many others did not. Like Damu, so many were lost—not just those who died, but also those who were not demobilised, who may never be.
 
These children will remain broken, angry, and full of distrust. They may never be able to turn their lives around—never be able to make something of themselves.
 
……………………………
 
Everyday it became harder to be on the battlefield.
The same obscene killings, the same scenes, the scent of blood and death, of rotting flesh, but worst of all, that smell of fear—fear that it would never end—day after day after day.
 
Until they started us on the drugs—cocaine, marijuana, crack mixed with gunpowder. I didn’t want to take it when they first gave it to us, but after a while I realized that when I was under the influence, it wasn’t so hard to kill.
 
Killing became easier, and the drugs also made me feel more alert and energized.
But best of all, the drugs helped me forget.
 
Helped me forget my innocent childhood, my family, my village, the killings day after day. Helped me forget my dreams.
 
I was hooked.
…………………………
 
Because of the drugs they had given us when I was in the army, I had become addicted.
Everyday I go to the group therapy rehab and have the drug treatment.
I am slowly getting over the addiction.
 
It is sometimes painful to remember—those awful scenes flashing in front of your eyes, when suddenly you flash back to childhood.
Remembering.
 
But cocaine wasn’t the only thing they gave us.
………………………………
 
One morning in the second week of being on the battlefield, shortly after they started us on drugs, they gave us each a drink.
It looked like thick, strong coffee.
 
After we drank it, they told us what was in it.
 
Human blood.
 
A shudder ran through me.
 
Standing there, empty cup in hand, I struggled not to retch.
 
……………………………..
 
Now, remembering that, as I try to wash my hands, suddenly all I see pouring out of the tap is blood.
 
I try to remember the day I was demobilised from the army.
 
……………………………..
 
It was an early morning of April 2009. We had been with the APRD for about two years. The war, while still on going, was starting to ease up, and we had been at this particular army base camp for about a month now.
I had been sleeping when a commander suddenly jolted me from the sack I was sleeping on.
“Come on, boy. And wake up the other brats as well. The UNICEF is taking you away today.”
‘Taking us away? What is the UNICEF?’ I thought while trying to wake the others up. I soon found out the answers to my questions.
…………………………….
 
The UNICEF—or The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund—managed to plan and coordinate with the government of the Central African Republic to release and demobilise child soldiers through the 2008 Libreville Peace Agreement, which is how I came to be in the transit centre in Paoua.
 
I was angry and indignant at first, because I had come to think of the army group as a family. But soon I came to see that this war, and the fact that I was involved in it, had taken away my rights as a child and a person.
But with the help of UNICEF, the Human Rights Watch, and the Red Hand Campaign, I got them back.
 
* * *
All in all, 166 of us were disarmed, demobilised, and began reintegration that day and sent to nearby transit centres to ‘receive assistance to readjust to civilian life’.
 
Thinking back on the war I was involved in, I am in awe of the cruelty of it all.
 
To think that we, mankind, are capable of such acts, appalls me.
 
There is no point to war. War in itself breaks countries apart—it breaks nations, cities, communities, families. It breaks people.
When war happens, wherever that war may be happening, the growth of society and economy come to halt.
Children are the hope of the future—they are the next generation, the heirs of the nation.
Children aren’t the only ones who are affected when they become soldiers.
Creating child soldiers is creating a future of violence and instability for that society.
 
I was a child when I was taken to be a soldier. In that one slow minute when I had to beat up Mr. Dacko with a chair, I grew up.
 
Throughout my two years on the battlefield, there were times when I thought I wouldn’t make it. When I wanted to give up.
But I got a second chance the others didn’t.
 
The chance to help reshape this broken nation which, no matter what, is still my home.
 
To the children who died in battle, to the villages that were burned down, to the rights that were lost, to all the potential and lives not lived, to the nations stricken with war and opposition—to you I raise my crutch.
 
For you, I limp down the hall, and try to live a normal life.
For you, I will live my second chance.
 
_______________________________________________________________________


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