Madeleine – a former child soldier from the Democratic Republic of Congo – shared her riveting story on campus yesterday.
“I was kidnapped when I was 11 years old,” she said.
Known only as Madeleine, she spoke out at the MultiCultural Center against the use of children in wars. Madeleine left the army a few years ago and began following a path of political activism, relocating to New York and serving as the African Delegate to the United Nations for the Red Hand Day Campaign. Madeleine said she was warned she could not return to her family after speaking openly about her experience; her former commander has been alerted to her activism and is awaiting her return.
Madeleine was joined on stage by activist and filmmaker Bukeni T. Waruzi, who screened two films depicting the crisis of child soldiering. Waruzi is the executive director of Ajedi-Ka, an organization founded in 1988 to alleviate poverty, protect the environment and stop the practice of child soldiers.
Waruzi has also collaborated with organizations such as the Invisible Children Club to put warlords like Thomas Lubanga, the former rebel leader from the DRC, behind bars.
“This is a long term issue and it is very challenging,” Waruzi said. “I believe that [the ICC] is the only institution that can bring justice to these kids.”
The two films were shown to an overflowing MCC, with students sitting in the aisles to witness the testimony. The first film, ‘A Duty to Protect,’ highlighted the issue of child soldiers in the Congo and featured interviews with current soldiers as well as those who have managed to escape military service.
One 16-year-old girl featured in the film stated her rank as “sergeant first class,” and boasted that her “strength is killing with knives and rope.” She continued by saying “I like to go to the front line on drugs.”
Spreading the message has been difficult, Waruzi said, as his screenings of the films in Congolese communities has received a mixed reception.
“The people have never seen films, [and] they get very excited in the villages,” Waruzi said. “But because they have never seen films, it is hard for them to understand the message.”
Waruzi said many Congolese children are illiterate and have limited access to information, which restricts their ability to escape conscription.
“In the Congo, it takes $150 for a child to go to school all year,” Waruzi said.
Yesterday’s event was hosted by the Human Rights Group at UCSB and co-sponsored by the Orfalea Family Children’s Center and the Center for Black Studies.