ECI Grantee Success Story: Let Africa Live (LAV) Transforms the Life of “Love”
*Photo: Love repairing a vehicle assisted by a young man in training
The following is a transcript of a recent radio interview with a young woman and former child soldier named “Love” who recently graduated from a vocational training program with ECI grantee, LAV.
Interviewer: Tell me briefly about yourself and your family.
I was born in a family of 8 children (4 boys and 4 girls and I am the third child in my family). Currently I live in Quartier Industriel with relatives.
In 1998, my dad was murdered by RCD soldiers around the Bwindi School in Bagira while he was driving in his van. The incident was not immediately reported to me by the relatives I was living with in Goma, where I was studying. It was only when I was on holiday that I heard about my dad’s death and how he died.
My father’s death drove me to contact rebel soldiers asking if I could join them, and as soon as I went back to Minova / North Kivu I joined the Mai Mai armed group commanded by Cuma. I was about 12 and I was still in the 6th grade.
Interviewer: What pushed you to join the army?
I just wanted to avenge my dad.
I had 6 months of military training in Ziralo and our motto was ‘everybody coming behind you is your enemy even if it’s your father, so you have to kill him.’ I learned how to use a firearm and was initiated in the mystical practice of Mai Mai – where we were given a lot of gree grees (traditional charm believed to protect people against bullets).
Interviewer: Have you participated in battle, if so, how did you fight?
Yes, I fought two battles against the RCD rebels in Masisi and we pushed them back very far. However, army life was very hard and as a Mai Mai, we suffered a lot. We did not bathe for many weeks and as a girl this is very uncomfortable. We ate as opportunities arose and we stole from the community or, in some areas, people gave us food. After two years of enduring these conditions, I escaped.
Interviewer: How did you escape?
One night, I buried my gun and military uniform and I fled. Unfortunately, I was identified and kidnapped by RCD rebels on my way from the bush. They asked me to choose between joining them or dying. To save my life, I took the uniform and a gun again and fought for them.
Interviewer: How was your stay in the RCD.
Difficult, because they were the killers of my dad and I saw how they continued to kill other innocent people. It was difficult because I could not exercise my freedom. In the army we cannot refuse anything from superiors, I was having sex with them though unwilling.
After 2 years in RCD, I escaped again. However, in Goma I was always identified as an ex-military. To avoid these worries and to get out of the military life, I came here in Bukavu where there was less unrest, as few people in the area knew me. Later on, someone directed me to the Save the Children CTO program where I spent 6 months before they gave me a certificate for demobilized soldiers. It was difficult in the program as we had nothing to do. We spent most of our time sleeping and could rarely go out.
Interviewer: How did you know about Let Africa Live (LAV)?
The Managers of Save the Children recommended us to the training center at LAV. The center started by helping us get registered as civilians in the 10th military region and we were given cards that started that we were demobilized. After that I started training in auto- mechanics and finished within one year. With the help of LAV I did my internship at the Mobile, AGIP, Economat and Bralima.
MY LIFE AFTER INTEGRATING WITH LAV.
Interviewer: As a LAV worker, how do you feel?
LAV recruited me back here after my internship and I am very proud to be part of LAV team. The acknowledged my skills and treat me equal to men who think mechanics is only for them.
The monthly incentive of $150.00 that LAV gives me has allowed me to meet my needs (clothing, etc.) and to assist my mom, who has become ill since my dad died, with her medical care and other needs.
Last year, I also received my high school diploma, establishing myself as an independent and self-taught student.
In my job, I now contribute to food at home and support my siblings with school fees. In the community, I am considered an important person because I do not beg anyone.
I can fix many car problems, and when it is difficult I can consult books. You cannot know everything yourself. I think I am a very good mechanic. My employer’s standards are very high, so in order to work here I must meet their expectations.
I have opened an account at credit union ‘Mutuelle d’Epargne et de Crédit de Bukavu’ (MECREBU) in which I am saving some of my salary. It is my hope that I will take some evening classes in the future and continue with University studies.
As a girl I will work hard and be a useful citizen. I will also continue to contribute to the advancement of my family. If I get married, I will make sure I am not a burden to my husband but rather a contributing partner.
I am very confident in myself and I am sure life will keep getting better. I advise those who are still in armed groups to leave them behind. There are no solutions there.