“It is important to want to change your life”


Category: Relief work, Africa

Ishmael Beah, UNICEF goodwill ambassador brings message of hope to the Danish Refugee Councils centre for children associated with armed conflict in Central African Republic

The children in the Danish Refugee Council’s (DRC) Transit and Orientation centre in the Central African Republic (CAR) had an unexpected visitor for three days in August. Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier who lived through the horrors of the civil war in Sierra Leone, today a prize-winning author and a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, visited the centre as part of his advocacy against the use of children in armed conflict.

During the time Ismail Beah spent at DRC’s Transit and Orientation centre, he interacted with the children where he recounted his own war experiences, the trauma inflicted on him and how he recovered and built a new life for himself. He told the children, “When you are conditioned to function in war, it takes time to know that something else is possible. I went through that myself”. He also tried to instil the importance of will in this process of rehabilitation, “its important to want to change your life” he added.

The Danish Refugee Council is running the Transit and Orientation centre in the north- eastern town of Ndele in Central African Republic with financing from the Common Humanitarian Fund and technical and financial back up by UNICEF.

Seven social workers provide round the clock care to the children recovered from CPJP’s military camp. The children receive psychological care and learn vocational skills like tailoring, mechanics and baking that aim at providing them with concrete skills to restart their lives after the centre. Meanwhile, DRC, in collaboration with ICRC, is also looking for the families of these children in order to reunite them or place them in foster families. The centre currently holds 38 children, including three girls, and has welcomed 67 children since June 2012.

The centre’s comprehensive programme aims at providing these children with an alternate view of life and with giving them opportunities to construct a new, better future.

“This path is not easy and the challenges manifold. At the bottom of all development indicators, years of conflict and insecurity have destroyed the socio-economic tissue of Central African Republic making it one of the poorest countries in the world. State run systems are almost absent and non state actors provide basic services for the most part,” says Line Brylle, programme coordinator for DRC in CAR.

These are not the only challenges faced by DRC’s social workers. Still awaiting disarmament, CPJP troops often roam about in the town of Ndele where the centre is located. Many of these children, belong to the same family as these troops, making the whole reinsertion and reintegration process extremely complicated.  “The biggest difficulty we’re facing is that the CPJP is actively functioning in our town and these children feel a strong parental link to the CPJP”, says Evelyne Zembea, DRC Reunification manager.


DRC in Ndele

While various humanitarian agencies provide primary health care and have rehabilitated the water points in and around Ndele, Danish Refugee Council has been carrying out education, protection as well as emergency food security and long term economic recovery programmes here to ensure that there is an all round economic development in the entire zone.

Read about DRC in CAR


Ishmael Beah in CAR

Ishmael Beah spent a week in Central African Republic where he met with political authorities, local media, spent time with the children of the Danish Refugee Council’s Transit and Orientation centre for children associated with armed conflict, and he participated in the release of 10 children from the rebel group CPJP at their base Akkoursoubak, north of Ndele.

Read more at UNICEF.org and watch a video report