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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Child Soldier - They fight like soldiers, they die like children.

Is a child still a child when pressing the barrel of a gun to your chest? 

These words stand out in the first few pages of Romeo Dallaire's book 'They fight like soldiers, they die like children'. I am currently reading this book and it is hard to imagine this distressing reality.

Dallaire was commissioned with the task of bringing peace to the Rwandan conflict in 1994 as commander of a UN operation. What he found there was beyond comprehension. Confronted by child soldiers intent upon a deadly mission, he takes the reader on a horrifying journey through a ghastly civil conflict in the pages of this eye opening book. Transported to the land of a thousand hills, we learn how he heroically faces the devastating and heartbreaking dilemma of the child soldier catastrophe and the far reaching global consequences of this particular mission. In 2004 he appeared at the 'International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda' to testify against the atrocities witnessed in the Rwandan genocide. The movie 'Hotel Rwanda' was based on the role of a Canadian Forces colonel, the role he was commissioned for as Major-General of UNAMIR. This book outlines his personal response as a campaigner of human rights to stop the use of child soldiers in armed conflict. It is both gut wrenching and heartbreaking, yet is a completely passionate and enlightening read. 

I first became aware of the use of 'child soldiers' in armed conflict in 2008 while listening to Marilyn Skinner speak on the 'Watoto' project in Sydney as she explained how they rescue, raise and rebuild the lives of the orphaned, abandoned and rejected children of a rebel war. I remember being completely shocked, mostly because this unbelievable scenario was an ongoing and real crisis in our day and age. How was this possible? Cocooned in my first world complexities, I had never considered the harrowing reality of child soldiers in other parts of the globe, really? It seemed inconceivable that this could happen in far flung countries of the world. I listened to this woman pour out her heart and soul as mine began to tilt in response. I listened intently as she passionately implored us to take note and not turn away. Here was a woman fighting the injustices of the world deep in the heart of Uganda. Her story was riveting. I felt a fissure open up within me, some unexplainable crack of deep compassion cut across my soul. As a mother of two young children on my own, I connected with this story wholeheartedly. I suddenly went there in my mind and couldn't imagine the loss to mother and child as I heard her retell the scenario again and again of children being taken in the dead of night, forced from families, forced to live a life of unimaginable proportions. I felt the welling up of horror, the over spilling of tears. There are moments in life that are defining, this was one of them. 

Right now Rwanda is remembering the pain of the past. This country torn apart by hate, impacted tragically and unbelievably by one of the worst genocidal massacres we have ever known, is today continuing to rebuild itself twenty years on. Forgiveness in the face of overwhelming devastation is changing the face of Rwanda. This past week Rwanda has embraced the annual memorial of that story, and because of it, a celebration of the breathtaking triumph of the human spirit over the most deplorable and tragic of circumstances. Rwanda has risen from the ashes.

Dallaire's book, 'Shake hands with the devil' became an international best seller, outlining the heartbreaking atrocities of the Rwandan genocide and exposing the unbelievable carnage of genocidal mania - the horror of over 800 000 Rwandans being slaughtered in a mere one hundred days. I have yet to read this book.

Linking up with Casey Leigh

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