From child soldier to professional mechanic

Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, 10 September 2015 – At 13 years old, Simon was enrolled in an armed group and for four years he lived a very difficult life. Today at 19, Simon is a successful mechanic in a professional workshop in Bukavu. “For all those years I suffered; I was often whipped. I stole from others, I didn’t even have a bed to sleep on,” Simon tells me.

Generally, armed groups put child soldiers on the front line. One day, during a battle, Simon was taken hostage by the regular army. He was therefore able to find a way of escaping this nightmare.

As we had run out of munitions, we were in turmoil. That was when I was captured by the enemy along with three other children. We were taken to the Chief of Staff, and then a MONUSCO aeroplane came to take us to Bukavu,” continues young Simon.

Then, after the identification processes for the demobilisation of child soldiers, Simon was admitted to a centre run by the Fondation Solidarité des Hommes (FSH), which has been a partner of UNICEF for twenty years working for the protection and promotion of children’s rights in South Kivu Province.

Thanks to the support of our partner UNICEF, we facilitated Simon’s demobilisation process. During the transitory phase, after orientation, he benefited from 6 months of training to become a professional mechanic. After the training period, we negotiated an apprenticeship for him with a company in Bukavu,” explains Mr Fernando Nkana wa Katamba, National Executive Director of FSH.

The army didn’t’ take everything from Simon, he kept his intelligence.

Today he stands out in his apprenticeship. The car dealership which took him on for his apprenticeship didn’t hesitate to hire him as a mechanic. “After the training period, I got my licence with a score of 78%. The company where I did my apprenticeship took me on and this job really helps me. I no longer think about my old vagabond life.” he says proudly.

Currently, at the FSH centre, 166 children are taking professional training courses, 101 boys and 65 girls aged between 15 and 19. FSH organises courses such as sewing, knitting, embroidery, mechanics, woodwork, cabinet fitting and cooking.

UNICEF supports FSH financially and technically but also boosts the organisation’s capacity to rescue the children. Marie Diop, Protection Specialist in UNICEF DRC’s East Zone Office, expressed her satisfaction at the work of the Fondation Solidarité des Hommes.

I am very satisfied with the type of training that FSH gives to children, girls and boys. I am also very pleased with the fact that they place children into structures that care for them after their training. This enables successful integration,” says Marie Diop.

Simon dreams of having his own company to help vulnerable children. “My life today is very different to before. Thanks to this job I am now standing on my own two feet. Moreover, I would like to have my own job which would allow me to help these children who go down the wrong path in life,” Simon confidently says.

If you can read and understand French, check out this video of Simon telling his story:

©UNICEF DRC/2015/Batumike
Kindly translated from French by Clare Haig
About UNICEF
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Kelvin Batumike

Ancien Enfant Reporter et passionné par la défense des droits des enfants,Kelvin Batumike s'est donné pour mission de promouvoir les talents des jeunes afin de leur permettre de prendre leurs responsabilités pour le développement du pays.

Former Child Reporter and avocating for children’s rights since a very young age , Kelvin Batumike has taken it upon himself to promote young people and their talents so as to enable them to assume their responsibilities for the development of the DR Congo.

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