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.
56089 School activity for former soldier children in COOPI center, Calaba Town (Freetown)
56118 Father Joseph Berton, 68, with a few of the children hosted in St. Michael Children's Welcome Center, in Lakka, just a few miles away from Freetown
56076 A former combatant children in COOPI center (Lakka)
56109 These childen are going to take off from Freetown on a heicopter headed to Bo, in south-eastern Sierra Leone, where they will join their families, after spending several weeks in COOPI-managed YMCA center in Lakka (Freetown)
56174 COOPI house for abducted girls in Calaba Town (Freetown)
56106 COOPI YMCA center in Lakka (Freetown)
56121 Teenager working as security guard in Badija Cheefdome diamond mining district
56172 A young mother with her few-months old child in COOPI Calaba Town center for abducted girls
56276 A Young fighter from "West Side Boys" militia, a turned-independent branch of SLA, Sierra Leone Army
56409 Matteo Frontini, Projrct Officer from Milan-based COOPI NGO, in Father Berton's St. Michael Children's Welcome Center. COOPI provides mutual support to Father Berton's charity
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]