Fighting for life
27-year-old *Miriam is mum to six children. At 10-years old she was thrown into an ugly world of war, rape, abuse and attack. For her, having a childhood was never an option.
In her own words she tells us about her fight for life – an unbelievable tale of courage, survival and finally, with our help, finding hope.
Photo: Miriam, 27
This is Miriam's story:
I lived in a comfortable village with my parents and siblings, in Uganda. One evening we were outside dancing and suddenly bright lights appeared and surrounded us.
What happened next is all a blur to me; I was taken away, alongside many of my friends. We were dragged through the bush by soldiers with big guns and emotionless faces.
We walked for days until we arrived at a training camp. I didn’t know it would become my home for the next two years. I was only ten.
Conscripted into a rebel army at 10
Conscripted into a rebel army Miriam and children from her village were taken to South Sudan where they were given guns and knives and told to fight.
With little access to food or water trying to survive in the bush was as deadly as the fighting.
We barely had any food or water, so we drank each other’s urine. This is how we survived.
After two years of fighting, I started working as a babysitter for the Army commander. I never had to return to fighting.
Mother at 13
Relief that she would never have to fight again was short lived. One battle was being exchanged for another. At 10 she was robbed of her freedom, at thirteen she would be robbed of her virginity.
‘I was 13 when he forced himself upon me for the first time, “You have to be my wife,” he told me, but I didn’t know what that meant. I learned fast.
He was an older man who already had five other wives. It was humiliating; the pain captured my whole body and ripped me apart. I tried to fight back with all my strength but he told me to be quiet, otherwise he would shoot me. I felt the cold of the gun against my head, the barrel touching my skin. That’s how I became the commander’s wife.
The second time he raped me I remained quiet, with tears rolling down my face. It was either carrying on or dying.
A decade of abuse, and six children later she managed to escape her captor and tried to return home. ‘I grew up in Uganda, but spent all my years of captivity in South Sudan. After I gave birth to my six children, I was finally able to flee. We escaped to Juba and eventually went back to Uganda, my home country. Everything had changed. ‘I found out my father had passed away and my mother was critically ill. I tried to stay with my family but they resented my children and me.’
Attacked by her own family
The perfect village life that Miriam remembered as a child, a place she felt safe, had now changed drastically. Her brothers were convinced that her children, being born in rebel territory, would become rebels and would bring trouble to the family.
One night during one of our Ugandan holidays, my two brothers attacked me with axes and knives. They sliced my belly, cut my leg and cut off my hand. I don’t know how I survived.
Fearing for her life, and the lives of her children, Miriam was forced to move to a different town in Uganda, the place she now calls home.
As a young mother, with no family, in a new city Miriam has struggled to provide for her children. ‘Until a few days ago we lived in a chicken coop because we couldn’t afford a house. My children became very ill, I had no choice but to move somewhere else, even though I can’t afford it.’ Despite being free from her physical captivity Miriam still battles for life every day. Like any mother she worries for her children, how she will provide for them and their futures.
Life is hard. I often think I don’t want to be alive anymore, but what would my children do without me? Their life is in danger, but I don’t want them to know. Our lives aren’t easy. My children have nothing. I have no money to send them to school and with my disability; I need them to help me around the house.
But in the rawness of her story she has found hope; hope she has gained from encountering us. ‘I finally met World Vision workers five days ago, and I am starting to have a little hope. They are now helping me process through my past experiences.’
Families like Miriam and her children are grateful for your support. Children are still being abducted, used for war, robbed of their innocence and subjected to atrocities no one should endure. You are providing emotional support and training for many women like Miriam. Helping them to process their past experiences so that they can face their futures with new hope and confidence.
We can’t erase Miriam’s past but together we can help to change her future, and the future of her children. There are many more families in need of our support and together we will continue to reach more children living in the world’s hardest places.
*Names have been changed to protect personal identity.
HOW WE HELP
Raw Hope is about protecting children in the most treacherous places on earth. Known as ‘fragile contexts’, these are areas where a government cannot or will not act on its responsibility to protect the human rights of its population.
These areas also experience unacceptably high maternal and child mortality rates, and other dangers. These include harmful traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation and early marriage; widespread child exploitation, such as rape and child trafficking; recruitment as child soldiers, or as child prostitutes.
They're also far more likely to be affected by disease and malnutrition, caused by poor hygiene, limited access to water and nutritious food.
Together, through Raw Hope, we can protect vulnerable children by offering lifesaving support and care, rehabilitation and stability in the volatile areas they live in.
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Our child friendly space in Serbia has given children a warm and safe place to rest. Thank you for showing your love and support to every child, every family who we welcome every day. You have shown them, they’re not forgotten.
By donating to Raw Hope, you will help give children like Basma a chance to thrive. We work with local communities to rehabilitate children who have experienced conflict and to protect children in danger. Your support will offer them long-term hope and the opportunity to be a child again.
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Child Soldiers - Nuang's Story
When Nuang* was 15 years old, he was tricked into joining the Myanmar Army. He remembers:
My dad decided to send me into the army. At that time, I played football a lot and I was a midfielder of our neighbourhood’s football team. The sergeant told me that there’s a football team in the army and I could be a professional football player if I tried hard. And I was told that I only had to stay there for four and half months.
At the recruitment unit, I had to get up early for physical exercises and training went on until 9pm. I missed home so much. The training was very tough and tiring. The food was really bad too – there was sand in the rice so it’s hard to eat. I was sent to serve with a battalion. I never got a chance to play football.
- Nuang, 15
Photo: Nuang, 15
Nuang was sent to fight, in another part of Myanmar. As well as fighting, children are used for many other reasons in armies including cooking, spying, carrying messages, as suicide bombers and for sexual slavery. They witness killing, mutilation and rape, often being forced to take part to prove their loyalty. It leaves them with profound psychological problems.
A year later, the Myanmar Government signed an agreement with the UN, committing to end child recruitment. Nuang explained, “I was told I would be released from the army as I was recruited as a minor. I was really happy to know that I could go home.
“I’m now playing football again with my friends. I’m also sharing my experiences in the army with my friends. And I’m raising awareness to help keep other children safe from being recruited.
“I tell parents not to send their children to the army before they are 18, as we have to do things which are wrong for children to take part in. And I want to tell the youths who have a bad relationship with their families or who don’t have a place to stay: it’s better to find other ways to earn your living rather than joining the army as children. I tell my friends who are still in the army that it’s their right to leave as they were recruited as minors and I helped them to contact World Vision.
“I would like to ask you to raise awareness among the general public and also in the army, so that the army officers become aware that under-age recruitment is illegal and the ones who were recruited as minors will be released.”
* We’ve changed his name to protect his identity.
In the aftermath of conflict and disaster, World Vision is there, helping to rebuild children’s lives.
As a supporter of Raw Hope you receive regular communications with on-the-ground footage and stories from the countries we’re working in – so you can see how your money is helping to save and protect the world’s most vulnerable children.
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FIND OUT MORE
Find out more about our child protection programmes by clicking on the topics below.
Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) are widely used to help support and protect children in the most vulnerable of circumstances, such as the conflict in DR Congo and Syria. In a large camp or town several CFS will be set up to be available to all children within walking distance and are often set up in tents or vacant school buildings, rather than building permanent structures.
CFS provide a safe, focal place in a refugee or IDP (Internally Displaced Person’s) camp or other crisis affected areas. They play an important role in identifying the most vulnerable children in emergency settings, such as:
- those who have lost, or are accidentally separated from one or both parents
- those highly psychologically affected by conflict, disaster or abuse
- those with particular health needs.
Staff are trained to spot such children and refer them on to specialist agencies to meet their needs whether that’s family reunification, alternative care provision, counselling or medical treatment.
While CFS are set up and managed by specialist NGO staff, the activities are run by suitably qualified volunteers from among the local affected population who already have good experience of working with children; often they will be teachers. Children and youth can gather to play and participate in organised games, sports, creative and learning activities to provide a stable and ‘normal’ routine in often chaotic and highly risky situations, and help them work through any traumatic events that they may have experienced.
This approach is designed to support children’s ‘psycho-social well-being’. Informal teaching is commonly planned to ensure children are made aware of new risks and hazards in their changed situation and how to avoid risks (such as abuse, water borne disease) and protect themselves from harm and illness.
Sometimes CFS have a stronger focus on providing basic education in literacy and numeracy until schools can be reopened, or set up in a new camp. CFS are generally short-term, emergency interventions of about 1-3 months, with the longer term goal of transferring children back into schools and possibly youths into vocational training and work opportunities.
They are also sometimes called ‘Safe Spaces’ and ‘Child-Centred Spaces’.
Child Parliaments provide a forum where older children and youth can gather to meet, identify and discuss issues that are important to them and develop ‘resolutions’ for action by local authorities and service providers - such as those who are responsible for protecting children or providing welfare support.
Parliaments are typically set up by NGOs or UNICEF, but are designed to be led by young people with support and facilitation by adults. Young people also find that Child Parliaments are safe places for them to meet and share, with their peers and supportive adults, the challenges they face in their personal lives (such as dealing with abusive or neglectful parents or violent situations) and work out positive solutions.
At their most effective, Child Parliaments have succeeded in campaigning for and bringing about changes on local issues that most affect their members. Sometimes this advocacy is scaled up to regional or national level when several Child Parliaments work together. They are an initiative that is applied across both emergency and more stable settings.
We work with children and their communities to both prevent children from being recruited into armed groups, and to support former child soldiers to reclaim their youth. By strengthening the protective environment around a child, we help them to be less vulnerable to forced recruitment as child soldiers. We also work with communities to address some of the ‘push’ factors such as lack of food or opportunities, and insecurity that may lead children to choose to join armed groups in search of a better life.
Children feel the impacts of conflict for a long time and need expert care and protection as they struggle to recover from their ordeals. Our experience in Sierra Leone, Uganda, DRC, Myanmar and elsewhere has shown that the reintegration process for child soldiers is complex and lengthy.
Former child soldiers find it difficult to adjust back into civilian life after witnessing and participating in the horrors associated with conflict. Many face barriers to their rehabilitation; including rejection by family and community members due to stigma and struggle to progress academically due to lengthy absences from school. Without education, job opportunities are limited and a cycle of poverty continues.
Since 2011, the Rebound project in eastern DRC has been supporting former child soldiers. We provide psychosocial support, vocational training and facilitate family reunification where possible. We also support young people as they reintegrate into their communities. Between 2011 and 2014, 91 former child soldiers and 119 ex-child sex workers were successfully rehabilitated. All of those children were enrolled in vocational, literacy and life skills training and received psychosocial support.
In countries affected by conflict, disaster, violence or extreme poverty, children and young people who are particularly vulnerable (usually, but not always girls) may find themselves driven or coerced into prostitution. Children enter into prostitution to survive, have food or lodging, or escape an abusive and ‘hopeless’ home situation where they may be uncared for and often sexually violated.
These case studies were collected in Eastern DR Congo in November 2013 (all names changed to protect the girl’s identities):
"I left my town for the city and joined the brothel when I was 13 as my mother was a widow and had no means to send me to school alongside my 3 older brothers." Charlotte
"I was an orphan with an increasingly hard life so left my aunt’s to sell beer in a brothel and soon men paid to have sex with me. I was not paid well so came to town with 3 friends from the same brothel to rent a house and set up our own brothel. I was the eldest (13) and soon we recruited other children from my home village and gave them to men. Being a prostitute is not an easy job and girls only get $1.5 - $1 per client, but their basic food and shelter needs are met and they even get beauty lotions. They organise themselves to support and protect each other. Girls in brothels often don’t go to the police for help if they have problems (violence) because they need the money they earn, also what they do is illegal so police won’t listen or worse may imprison them." Buyana
In Eastern DRC, World Vision works with a local partner, Benenfance on the Rebound project, to support child prostitutes who wish to escape the brothels and be reintegrated back into their home communities. The girls receive counselling and training on their rights, health and life skills issues. They are given apprenticeship training in vocational skills (typically sewing) and on completion receive a ‘start-up kit’ (sewing machine etc) to enable them to make a living.
In 2008 there were 627 girls in 164 brothels. World Vision and Benenfance started work in 2009 and by 2011, numbers had dropped to 365 girls in 61 brothels. Previously the Mayor and police had tried to intervene with little result, but World Vision was much more successful because they took a multi-pronged, holistic approach, using the radio and child protection structures to influence government officials, community members and leaders.
"Before Rebound, I had nothing in mind to help myself and lived by my own means, but today I have a skill for the future." Charlotte
"Rebound has made a big change in my life; now I am able to do tailoring, get my own customers and live by myself, not dependent, although my income is sometimes not enough. I left my old friends who were a bad influence, I have found new friends and my goal in life now is to earn money and be able to help other children." Kasima
"Since leaving the brothel my project for the future is to open my own workshop, rent my own house and continue helping other children in brothels. Then I want to support 2 or 3 of them to leave." Buyana
These are areas that foreign policy refers to as ‘fragile contexts’ – where a government cannot, or will not, act on its responsibility to protect the rights of its population. Issues affecting these areas include malnutrition and disease, high maternal and child mortality. Harmful traditional practices – such as early marriage and female genital mutilation – exist here too, as does exploitation, trafficking, child prostitution and the recruitment of child soldiers.
Raw Hope works in the most fragile areas of the world, where other funds are unable to reach, in order to provide protection for children and a chance of survival for the young people who live there. These children face significant and immediate danger every single day, with their lives continually at risk from physical abuse and harm, exploitation and general immediate threat from their environment.
Raw Hope funds allow World Vision to respond to urgent need, providing aid and security for children in the most volatile areas. This includes everything from minimising the risk of rape and murder of children travelling to water supplies to helping to give children a voice through Child Parliaments.
Raw Hope works in the world’s most dangerous places where it is extremely difficult and inefficient to set up programmes such as child sponsorship. Before Raw Hope, World Vision had to rely on unreliable sources of funding which prevented the provision of substantial support to those areas most in need.
Stand with me: our uncertain future was created by Syrian refugee children. The report reveals the fears,violence and uncertainty that still haunts Syrian refugee children even in their host countries, and reports that, tragically, some 86 per cent of children who were interviewed have been exposed to violence in their new communities. Through this report, these children challenge world leaders to end the conflict. Download it now »
No one to turn to - life for children in eastern DRC is our latest report from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In it, the children of the DRC tell the real and devastating nightmares they face every day. Hundreds of thousands of children are living under the threat of attack by a multitude of armed groups, but rarely are their experiences or views heard. Download it now »
Sounding the alarm documents the suffering that has befallen the children of South Sudan. But more importantly, it warns that unless urgent measures are taken things will get unimaginably worse. Download it now »
Fixing a food crisis and preventing a catastrophe in South Sudan urges the intermational community to remember lessons learnt from similar crisis in South Sudan and elsewhere, and live up to its commitments by pursuing the recommendations made in this report. Download it now »
Exploring the links: female genital mutilation/cutting and early marriage aims to explore some of the potential links between the practices of FGM/C and early marriage. In doing so, it looks at some of the drivers of these practices, and will make the case that in contexts where both FGM/C and early marriage are practiced, development research, policy and programmes would be well advised to address the two practices in tandem. Download it now »