Liberia: aid workers prepare for flood of former child soldiers

 CAFOD partner Don Bosco Homes in Liberia is preparing to receive thousands of former child soldiers as demobilisation starts on 1 October. While small numbers of child soldiers have been drifting into the night shelters run by Don Bosco Homes since the beginning of the ceasefire in mid August, most are still with their militia units. With the start of the demobilisation process, staff at Don Bosco Homes are preparing for a sudden influx of these deeply traumatised children. The United Nations estimates there are up to 15,000 child soldiers who have been fighting Liberia's bloody civil war. In all three militias - government and the two rebel forces of LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy and MODEL (Movement for Democracy in Liberia) children can make up around 70% of fighters. Staff at the shelters are expecting several thousands of children to arrive seeking help. Every child who arrives will be given the chance of a new life, swapping guns for schoolbooks. Don Bosco Homes is the only organisation in Liberia currently working with former child soldiers. "Many of the child soldiers who have come to our shelters arrived with bullet wounds, most are in poor health and arrived virtually naked. Some are addicted to the drugs forced upon them at the frontline to give them false courage. All are traumatised by what they have seen and done during their time at the frontline, said Kofi Ireland, one of the supervisors at Don Bosco Homes. Children such as nine year old James Saah who fought with the government militia before managing to escape. During his time at the frontline he received a bullet wound in his leg and was forced to execute two men at point blank range. Now he will start a three month rehabilitation programme that will aim to reunite him with his family and put him back into school to work towards his dream of becoming a car mechanic. To help support Don Bosco Homes, CAFOD has brought in a team from Sierra Leone. The four members of staff from Caritas Makeni are highly experienced in this rehabilitation work as they have successfully reunited thousands of former child soldiers with their families and communities following the end of the Sierra Leone civil war. This Friday (3rd October), CAFOD is asking its supporters to take part in the annual Harvest Fast Day fundraising event. This year the event is focussing on the theme of rebuilding lives and restoring hope.

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