Tuesday, 9 June 2009

West Africa's Lost Generation

This is a story I am researching at the moment and trying to get a commission for. Hope someone will be interested.

How can children, who have killed and tortured, who have been savagely beaten and raped, have seen and endured extreme pain and violence, be normal children again?

In West Africa, a whole generation of children are struggling to cope with the impact of civil war, ethnic cleansing, child trafficking and the AIDS pandemic – and many are pushed to the brink of suicide.

“You are rebuilding the schools and the roads and the bridges, but you are not rebuilding us, and we have suffered too much,” said a young woman in Liberia who have seen her father and brother being killed and is now selling sex to pay for food and school fees.

The international children’s organisation, Plan, together Family Health International, conducted the first-ever investigation into the psychological impact of war and trauma on children. The newly released study “Silent Suffering” is based on more than 1,000 in-depth interviews with children in Liberia, Togo, Sierra Leone, Cameroon and Burkina Faso.

The findings are harrowing. Sixty percent of former child soldiers interviewed in Liberia said they had witnessed another child being punished to death and 84 percent had found themselves “surrounded by, lying underneath or stepping on” dead bodies.

Not surprisingly, the children showed extremely high levels of post-traumatic stress syndrome and mental illness, but an alarming number are also suicidal. In Sierra Leone, 70 percent of girls and 80 per cent of boys without parental support were suicidal – and 30 per cent have already attempted to kill themselves.

Researchers were so shocked by “the level of despair” and distressing stories they uncovered, that Plan and FHI set up mobile units to give emergency counselling and treatment to the children most at risk, using traditional healing ceremonies, fairy tales sessions, family mediation and medical and social assistance.

Most youngsters said it was the first time they were able to discuss the atrocities they had witnessed or committed.

Plan has offered to take me to Liberia, where I would like to look at the impact of war on former child soldiers, visiting a few youngsters in their communities, see how they are coping and what their hopes for the future are. I’ll speak with family members to see how they can learn to love and care for these children again instead of seeing them as monsters. I’ll attend some healing/fairy tale/mediation sessions and see how they can help the children rebuild their lives. I also would like to look at the impact president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf -the first African woman head of state - is having on their lives and her efforts to improve their situation.

Anyone interested in this story?

Here is a Plan's video about the Silent Suffering study

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