Two decades ago, a civil war began in Sierra Leone that lasted 11 years. Nine years later, the emotional and physical scars are still evident, particularly for the children who were forced to fight, and their struggle now is to find hope in the aftermath of the conflict.
In the video, you can hear 18-year-old Kalie Kamara’s story. I met Kalie last year and he told me how when he was just four years old his village was attacked and he witnessed his grandfather being killed by a child soldier.
Kalie, like many children, was then abducted from his village and given little choice but to join the fighting. Often the children were given drugs, such as cocaine, to dull their senses and give them courage to fight.
Out of the 45,000 fighters who took part in the civil war, around 17,000 were ‘child soldiers’. They killed and maimed civilians, cleared mines, and constantly faced injury and death.
When the war finished and they tried to return to their communities, many of the young people were rejected. Their childhoods had been stolen and they were left with no family, no education, and no prospects.
Since 2001, the Sierra Leone Red Cross has been delivering a life-changing child advocacy and rehabilitation (CAR) programme which helps some of the country’s most traumatised young people recover and reintegrate back into society.
The programme also helps other children, who were not part of the fighting forces, but who suffered violence and witnessed horrific events – including the murder of their parents and families, the mutilation of their friends and maiming of community leaders.
The CAR programme, which is supported by the British Red Cross and Land Rover, provides young people with counselling, basic education and vocational training, as well ensuring they are accepted and reintegrated within their community.
Thanks to Land Rover’s support the Sierra Leone Red Cross is able to run five CAR centres across the country, helping 12,600 young people per year.
Kalie told me how the programme has helped turn his life around. He said: “After the soldiers were disarmed, I was living an awful life. I was drinking, doing drugs and stealing. I was miserable.
“Then my friend convinced me to register at the Red Cross centre. I’ve changed a lot in the last year and the staff here have really helped me.
“I chose to learn construction and I spend my free time helping my neighbours repair their houses. I now respect myself and I want to become a responsible man. I went to my village and constructed a two-room house and I feel very proud of this.
“I graduate from the Red Cross centre soon and I already found a contractor who will take me on as an apprentice. My dream is that I will be somebody in the future, somebody respected in the community.”
Land Rover and the Red Cross have released this short film to show how young people in Sierra Leone are rebuilding their lives and creating a more hopeful future. If the film inspires you, you can support the Red Cross by donating through our website.
Land Rover has been supporting the Sierra Leone Red Cross since 2008 when it donated eight 4×4 vehicles to help reach remote and vulnerable communities.
It is also continuing to provide vital funding for the Sierra Leone Red Cross to help 85,000 vulnerable people over the next three years.
Find out more about how we’re helping to build peace in Sierra Leone