The First and Second Liberian Civil Wars, which raged between 1989 and 2003, are renowned for the brutality children faced during these two wars. Many children were recruited as soldiers and forced to leave their parents at ages when they needed them the most. These children were ordered to kill many people from their own villages and were exposed to different kinds of drugs. Some of them had to serve as cooks, stewards, and other as sex slaves.
When the wars were over, these children were discriminated against and isolated from society as they had to live with the people who were often family members of people they have killed and brutalized. The children of these child soldiers are receiving the same treatment as their parents.
Because of this, Morris Y. Matadi, who is a former child soldier himself, has taken some of these children in the city of Buchanan under his wings and provided them with basic primary and secondary education. He currently has 32 of them in his program known as the After School Program (ASP).
Out of these 32 children, 5 of them have received a 100% scholarship. It takes 280 USD to put a child in school (either primary or secondary) for one year, and this fee covers the tuition, textbooks, uniform, and a school bag. His goal is to have provided 20,000 children with a primary education by 2030. Here's what Morris had to tell us about his childhood when we spoke to him:
"I am Morris Y. Matadi, a Liberian born unto the union of Mr. and Mrs. Wilmot Matadi on December 1, 1981. Before the Liberian civil war, I, along with my younger sister and my two older brothers, lived with our parents in a happy family. My father served in the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) as an engineer. My mother was a businesswoman; she was loving and kind to her children and people living in our community. We all attended school like most children those days and were well-fed. It was such a good and happy life, and we couldn’t have wished for more.
I remember one day at dinner; my father asked each of us what we wanted to be when we grew up. My two older brothers wanted to take after our father and become engineers. My little sister wanted to be a medical doctor. My father looked pleased when I told him that I would be a pilot. He immediately encouraged me to be an air force pilot, which, to him, would give me vast experience before becoming a commercial pilot. I had such high hopes of attaining my dream, and nothing was going to deter me. However, this dream was soon shattered during the Liberian civil war.
On December 24, 1989, my nightmare suddenly began. The Liberian civil war was launched by the notorious warlord, Charles G. Taylor. I was 11 years old.
On July 27, 1991, I awoke very early in the morning in a deserted house to the sound of cars arriving. When I peeped out, I was surprised to see that the vehicles contained several armed men who had come to loot the house. I tried to hide but was caught by them. Some wanted to kill me, but their commander, known as General Butterfly, told them he wanted to use me as his Radio Transmission Operator (RTO), which was an errand boy. From that day forward, I became a child soldier. I carried ammunition, killed people I was ordered to die and was introduced to all kinds of dangerous drugs. For seven years, my sense of direction in life changed from wanting to become a commercial pilot to survival as a child soldier in the Liberian civil war. I grew into one of the most feared child soldiers among my peers and gained the respect of my commanders.
Later, in the 1997 Liberian election, the NPFL's rebel leader, Charles G. Taylor, won. I was selected among many to be trained for the Executive Mansion Special Security Unit (EMSSU). Later I was again chosen for VIP training at the Anti Terrorist Unit (ATU) base in Gbatala, where I obtained the position of operations man (third-in-command) in President Taylor's motorcade. I served in this position for three years.
Finally, in 2000 I decided to escape to Ghana. I gathered some money and managed to travel to Ghana to the Buduburam refugee camp to rebuild my life. But life in the field was very hard for me. Most of the people that my commander had forced me to kill had family members who also lived in the camp.
There were many other daily challenges, like finding a place to sleep, food to eat, and water to drink. But the main problem was living with those whom I treated badly and whose families I had killed. They wanted to take revenge on me. Due to this, I was isolated from society, as all former child soldiers were. And this went on for three years. In 2003 we faced our biggest challenge: the re-recruitment of former child soldiers in the refugee camp to go and fight in other war-ravished countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Almost 3,600 former child soldiers were recruited to fight in other countries like Guinea, Ivory Coast, Sudan, and in the new conflict arising in Liberia. Inspired by my desire to change my life for the better, I decided to rally those former child soldiers who had refused to go. I vehemently organize other former child soldiers and protested against our re-recruitment. Soon, the UN and other human rights groups recognized our plight and came to our aid. Advised by these international groups, we decided to form an organization to improve the welfare of all former child soldiers. The new organization was called Initiative for the Development of Former Child Soldiers (IDEFOCS).
Morris is doing an amazing job in helping these children, but his funds are limited and he needs support.
Will you help former child soldiers to get their place in society? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.