Tuesday, June 21, 2005

SOS CHILD SOLDIERS : Trying To Repair The Damage

A few days ago, I wrote about the Kids League Foundation operating a football league in Gulu in Northern Uganda. But the Kids League is not the only organization working to help the kids there. SOS Children started its Child Soldier Program in Gulu in 2002.

That SOS program targets Ugandan babies and children whose lives have been shattered by the ongoing civil war in Uganda. On their web site SOS says: "Over the last 15 years ten thousand children have been taken from home by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) around Gulu in northern Uganda, alone."

These children include former "Lord's Resistance Army" child soldiers, abandoned children born to mothers in captivity, abducted and sexually abused girls with their babies, AIDS orphans and children whose parents have been killed in the conflict.

One specific goal is to re-unite former child soldiers with their families and to help them come to terms with what they have been through. This involves helping communities to understand that the children themselves are not really to blame, even when they have committed atrocities.

The children in the program are provided with basic necessities, food, clothing, shelter in dormitories and tents and medical and psychological support. The children will be reunited with their families and receive ongoing assistance such as schooling, medical support and access to psychological help whenever it is possible. Orphans and children whose relatives cannot be found or whose community refuses to reintegrate them, receive long-term family based care in an SOS Children's community. Currently nine caregivers are living with 117 children in a temporary village in Gulu. Eventually a permanent community will be built as a long-term solution.

SOS Children first went into Uganda in the aftermath of the 1985 war, which had its greatest impact on the children in the Luwero Triangle. Setting up its first operation in Kakiri, a small village not far from the capital Kampala, SOS established a children's community for orphans, , as well as a kindergarten, a primary and secondary school and a medical center.

The second SOS Children's Village in Uganda was established in Entebbe in response to pressures from crises, not least of which was the growing Aids pandemic.

The need to come to the aid of children in Uganda is still very real. SOS reports that: "In just the last ten years, over two million children have died in wars and conflict. More than one million have been orphaned in the same period and more than six million have been permanently disabled or seriously injured."

In addition to its work in Uganda, SOS Children works around the world to help Child Soldiers and other children deeply scarred by conflict. They are also currently helping child soldiers in Sudan by providing family-tracing, counseling, education and support for child soldiers who are now trying to rebuild their lives since the end of hostilities in southern Sudan.

Since March of 2004 the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) has been releasing hundreds of child soldiers as a result of the peace negotiations that led to the treaty of January 2005. Many of these children had been recruited by force to fight - sometimes at ages as young as 7 or 8.

SOS Children runs a community for orphans in Malakal where many of them arrived after their release seeking food and assistance in finding their families. In Malaakal SOS provides children with medical check-ups, food, clothes, shelter and vital counseling.

In addition to Uganda and Sudan SOS Children is also working hard to rebuild lives in Rwanda a decade after the massacre there.

The injuries to these children may never be undone, but take a look at what SOS Children is doing to help as much as it can. There web site for their Child Soldier Projects is:


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