By Lizzie Moncada, Grants Manager, Save the Children
Aristide* grew up in Bouca in the northern part of Central African Republic (CAR).
At just 17, he was caught up in the escalating violence in his country: his home was targeted. He joined an armed group.
“My family’s things had been destroyed,” he tells me, “ and I wanted vengeance.”
On the march away from family
On 5 December 2013, the troops Aristide had joined in Bouca decided to march to another city, more than 500km away.
“My mother was not happy that I wanted to leave as she said it wasn’t good for someone of my age to be involved in killing,” he remembers. Despite his mother’s fears Aristide went with the group, which included at least 50 other children his age.
It took them a month to walk to Bangui and along the way they were so short of food they were forced to eat leaves.
Boredom – and drugs
“We stayed together but didn’t have anything to eat or do. I was made to carry out little errands for the heads of the group, like buying drugs to smoke. They often shared the drugs with us boys, but they made me feel bad.”
One day Aristide, dressed in his military uniform, was walking past Save the Children’s Child Friendly Space (CFS) and heard the sound of children playing. He was intrigued.
Save the Children volunteer Mathilde* took the time to talk to Aristide to explain to him that this was a safe space for children to come and play, dance and sing. It also gives them the opportunity to safely discuss issues that are important to children.
“My future is here now”
Mathilde and Aristide formed a strong bond and Aristide decided to stop using drugs and to leave the armed group to continue his studies instead. He now comes to the Save the Children’s youth debates every afternoon after school and is an avid speaker:
“I like attending the debates as they are about all sorts of issues such as drugs and peace. My future is here now. Now when we debate about drugs, I tell others that it not good to smoke them.”
Aristide now goes to school every morning and his favourite subject is English. He is no doubt that education is the way forward for him. He tells me, “In the future, I want to be an engineer so I can help my country.”