During the last decade, all warring factions in Sierra Leone have enlisted children - and we mean here as young as 12 and up - in their ranks. Furthermore, thousands have been abducted by the rebel of RUF (Revolutionary United Front) and forcibly kept in the bush while being trained first and then successfully exploited as combatants or slave workers. The same happened for young girls who were abducted, often raped and lived sometimes for years serving as sexual slaves or "married" to self-appointed RUF commanders. Now, and since a few months, an increasing number of these children are being released or succeed in escaping the brutal ruling of the rebels. As soon as whatever "release" is noticed, UNICEF - which estimates conflict in Sierra Leone has generated at least 5000 children soldiers, does its outmost to bring these children to Freetown, where a few organizations - notably COOPI, italian, Milan-based NGO, and FHM (Family House Movement) a relief charity run by 68 years old Father Berton and Rev. Chema Caballero., who helped more than 1300 children since their debut in 1997. These children - who have sometimes spent as long as 5 - 6 years in the bush - get sheltered and undergo a rehabilitation / reeducation program which can last up to months. They get through schooling schedule whose goal is to upgrade them at least to a normal-to-their age school level. Girls, in huge majority carrying babies or who just delivered one, are taught soap-making or hairdressing which makes them a little bit more skilled and job - capable. The final step is accomplished when these children get back to their villages and their families, as soon as any is found available.
56143 Former combatant child
56173 This girl, portrayed here in Calaba Town, has delivered her baby 6 months before, naming him Giovanni, after Giovanni Cozio, COOPI senior manager
56084 Ready to go back home (every child is provided sort of a gift-bag with a few essentials as clothes and a folding mattress)
56068 Dancing at a wedding party in St. Michael center
56080 Looking forward to the landing of the helicopter who will bring these children back home
56085 COOPI center in Calaba Town (Freetown). Several children bear yet the marks of wounds inflicted inflicted often purposedly by their captors, sometimes to deposit drugs in subcutaneous tissues and hence make them addicted.
56177 9 months pregnant, 17 years old girl in Calaba Town COOPI center
56275 Paramilitary groups - here, West Side Boys - still have teenagers in their ranks
56077 Former combatant child in YMCA COOPI center, Lakka
56406 Matteo Frontini (COOPI project officer, in white, foreground) just before taking off with an helicopter shuttling back several children to their families in Bo.
56176 The youngest host in Calaba Town COOPI center, just sixteen
56090 COOPI center in Calaba Town (Freetown)
56116 Father Berton, italian, with a few of his children in Lakka (Freetown), where he runs his own charity, St. Michael Children's Welcome Center. Here, he has hosted more than 1300 children, mostly rescued from the "bush", since 1997
56097 Primary school - level lessons in Calaba Town center for former combatant children (COOPI)
Farewell, good ol' Marjan... The lone king of Kabul zoo succumbs to his age at 48, after surviving years and years of deprivations and symbolizing to kabulis the spirit of resiliency itself Well.....that's sad news, indeed. To my eyes, Marjan symbolized hope. However, in thinking about that dear old lion's death I choose to believe that when he heard the swoosh of kites flying over Kabul, heard the roars from the football stadium, experienced the renewed sounds of music in the air and heard the click-click of chess pieces being moved around chessboards....well, the old guy knew that there was plenty of hope around and it was okay for him to let go and fly off, amid kite strings, to wherever it is the spirits of animals go.
Peace to you Marjan and peace to Afghanistan.
[Diana Smith, via the Internet]