“For children, the deepest scars of war and flight are the hidden ones.” Graca Machel, former Minister of Education in Mozambique and the author of the groundbreaking 1996 UNICEF report, “Impact of Armed Conflict on Children.”
The devastating impacts of war leave few facets of life unscathed. The conditions that surface as a consequence of armed conflict like unemployment, homelessness, and deep physical and psychological trauma, persist once peace agreements have been signed and conflicts cease. Communities and families must deal with these impacts well into the future, as war will continue to plague people’s minds for years, decades, and even generations to come. Building peace requires attention to the psychological and emotional layers of violent conflicts.
In a country like Sierra Leone where a decade of war has resulted in 50,000 deaths, 2 million displaced people, 100,000 civilian mutilations, and 10-15,000 child soldiers, the need for societal, community, and individual rehabilitation and retraining programs are essential if peace is to be sustained, the culture of violence transformed, and if people are to know a life outside of war.
Child soldiers are often forced to kill adults and other children; they frequently suffer from malnutrition, isolation, and are likely orphaned when war ends. The experiences of child soldiers can result in deep, long-term psychological trauma. Such trauma most commonly manifests itself through depression, anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, back and stomachaches, feelings of fear, insecurity and instability, as well as withdrawn behaviour, learning difficulties, and aggressive behaviour. Without a great deal of support, retraining, and treatment, there is little hope that these children will be able to break with the cycle of violence.
In Freetown Sierra Leone, the organization iEARN Sierra Leone in partnership with War Child Canada is working to provide former child soldiers and other war-affected children with skills training and an opportunity to share their experiences of war with their peers around the world through their No War Zone (NWZ) project. The NWZ project provides youth affected by war the opportunity to work with a community of youth around the world in support of peace building and human rights, while receiving essential training in new media and information technology.
The NWZ website, www.nowarzone.org, facilitates the development of community projects with the peers of war affected youth; it provides them with a medium to share their culture through art, music, and writing, and helps to bring them out of their isolation by providing them with online resources about numerous international issues.
This project is providing war-affected young people with much needed psychosocial rehabilitation and is giving former child soldiers and other war-affected youth a chance to reintegrate into society. The education and skills training provide a viable chance at employment once their schooling is completed.
- It is estimated that there are at least 300,000 child soldiers around the world.
- It is estimated that 85% of children in Sierra Leone have been directly or indirectly affected by the war.
- According to UNICEF, (1996) children in war zones are often as likely as adults to become the victims of rape, torture and killing.
- Over 10 million children have experienced psychological “trauma” or distress due to war.
War Child Projects that Make a Difference:
To learn more about what War Child Canada is doing to assist children and communities in Sierra Leone, as well as other war affected regions of the world, visit our international projects page here: http://www.getloud.ca/en/gpi_project.asp
Want to Learn More?
1. The Human Security Network: Children Facing Insecurity: New Strategies for Survival in a Global Era
2. UNICEF Report: Impact of armed conflict on children