Former child soldier advocates peace

Feb 5th, 2010 | By | Category: Campus Events, Features, Personal Features

By Evan Pennington

Rebels kidnapped the group of children who were innocently playing soccer, blindfolded them, and cut a deep gash in their wrists, rubbing a mixture of gunpowder and cocaine into the wound to induce hysteria.

Then, rebel soldiers handed the still-blindfolded five-year-old Michel Chikwanine an AK-47 assault rifle and ordered him to fire. Chikwanine obeyed and killed his best friend in the process. Sadly, the nightmare was just beginning.

Students and faculty members packed into Carrington Auditorium on Jan. 21 to hear the heartbreaking story of Chikwanine, a former child soldier from the Democratic Republic of Congo who now acts as a motivational speaker and advocate for oppressed children around the world.

After the being abducted and being forced to kill his best friend, Chikwanine spent the next two weeks of his life participating in village raids and violent acts of all sorts along with the rebel soldiers.

War again threatened Chikwanine and his family when he was 10 years old. First, rebel soldiers captured his father. Then several months later, rebel soldiers forcibly entered the family’s home, where Chikwanine was forced at gunpoint to witness his mother and two sisters being raped.

A child carries shell casings in a rebel camp in the Central African Republic. Photo courtesy Pierre Holtz/UNICEF CAR

Rather than succumbing to the violence and animosity he suffered, Chikwanine, now 22, became inspired to positively affect communities all over the world through education and public awareness. He works closely with two organizations: Me To We, a group dedicated to influencing world change by encouraging others to make ethical and socially conscious decisions, and Free The Children, which engages in building schools, developing water and sanitation projects, and other tasks in impoverished communities.

Chikwanine believes greed is the greatest thing that divides communities and keeps people from living and working peacefully together.

“I think the world today is full of (greed), but (in North America) it is a part of the culture we are born into,” Chikwanine said. “In school we are told to become doctors, professors- things that will serve you instead of the world.”

Chikwanine noted how greed had played a major part in the violence he experienced, citing that in the Congo, certain corporations had paid rebel soldiers to commit violent acts in the interest of securing precious minerals.

Chiwanine believes the antidote to greed is compassion and education.

“We can move away from this (greed) by learning about other people’s cultures and world issues,” he said. “If you love your computer, why not blog about issues that you care about? If you like to read, then read about other cultures. We must appreciate the world for what it is.”

Education is key to learning this compassion and appreciation for others.

“By educating children, you give them the opportunity to broaden their horizons and extend their own lives as well,” Chikwanine said. “Most of the wars start because people are not educated enough. Education allows you to choose the way you think.”

Hundreds of students lingered after the presentation in order to learn more about what they could do to help or participate in one of the organizations Chikwanine mentioned.

Michel Chikwanine

Chikwanine finds it crucial for privileged nations to hear of other countries that are not quite so fortunate. Just as is the philosophy of Me To We, Chikwanine is helping to change the way people think about global crises, and how the smallest of decisions can help bring about justice and revolutionary changes in the Congo and elsewhere.

The event was sponsored by Student Activities Council. More information about Me to We can be found at www.metowe.com. More information about Free the Children can be found at www.freethechildren.com.

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