A New Beginning for Former Soldiers
by Michelle Scott
At the end of July 2007 a group of former soldiers in Liberia's drawn out civil war graduated with skills that have nothing to do with the guns of their youth. This class of 771 young men in Lofa County, Liberia completed nine months of training in marketable skills such as carpentry, masonry, tailoring, and auto mechanics. In addition, they gained basic math and literacy skills and learned how to operate a small business.
Most of them missed out on the opportunity to gain a formal education during the war years and this educational boost will go a long way towards their futures. They also received trauma counseling and participated in local peace building and reconciliation activities to help mend the wounds the war has inflicted on them and their communities.
Forced to Fight
Kezelee, one of the former soldiers participating in the program recalls how his village was attacked and he was faced with the terrible decision of being killed or becoming a soldier. He chose to live and spent the next few years fighting in the civil war. The soldiers were encouraged to fight with promises of a big payoff if the president was overthrown. "In reality," Kezelee says, "I got nothing from the three years of fighting."
After the war he was left orphaned and without any peacetime skills. He tried several times to join reintegration programs that would provide him with job training, but he was rejected. He tried one last time with UMCOR's program. "I registered," he said, "with little hope of being successful."
However this time proved to be different. Kezelee was accepted in the UMCOR program. "I was very happy because some of my friends who were trained by UMCOR in 2005 were already skilled in various trades and have started earning money."
Help to Start Over
In addition to teaching these former soldiers skills, UMCOR also gives them the equipment and tools they used during training. This allows them to begin working immediately following graduation.
Kezelee entered the carpentry program and is happy with his new-found skills. He was fixing chairs and tables well before graduation. Even more exciting than that were the results of his literacy classes: "instead of thumb printing my name as I did in the first two months of the program, I started writing my name!" Kezelee is just one success story of well over 1,000 who have found a new life after so many years of war.
How You Can Help
UMCOR opened its Liberia office in 1996 to provide emergency relief and post-crisis assistance to the most vulnerable people of Liberia. UMCOR Liberia's programs consist of a wide range of activities in the areas of agriculture, food security, water and sanitation, education, healthcare, skill training of ex-combatants and transit center management. This is UMCOR's third training program for former soldiers.