Do you ever get the feeling when you see a video of someone speaking, a documentary or you see someone speak in person and you immediately feel inspired to do something, to want to be someone who actually does something? I hope you have because it is a good feeling. I love that people can touch something in you that moves you so much. The first time I can remember something like this happening to me was watching my #GuyBoss this month speak. His name is Michel Chikwanine. In my school in Canada we had these events occasionally in my school where someone might give a speech or dancers came or something else was happening, so I didn’t expect too much when we all went to the sports hall to listen to some speaker. So what happened was basically my entire school came together in the sports hall and the lights went out. Then a guy came on a little stage. He didn’t look much older than we were and his introduction was amazing. He tried to explain to all of us how his name was pronounced and it was hilarious. But when he started speaking properly about what he came for the hall was silent. Over 1000 people in a sports hall and you could have heard a pin drop. It turned out Michel Chikwanine comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo and that he used to be a child soldier. His story was remarkable, fascinating, terrifying and sad, the way he told it mesmerizing. I mean you can tell how memorable it all was for me by this article: I heard him speak over 5 years ago.
I am going to summarize his story for you: he grew up during the Great War in Africa and at the age of 5 Michel and some of his friends had been abducted by rebels soldiers. They were supposed to become child soldiers. As an initiation ritual these children got their wrists cut open and the rebels rubbed a mixture of cocaine and gunpowder in it driving the children insane. They were then blindfolded. While they were on that Michel, who was the youngest, got handed a gun and was told to shoot. Multiple times. They shouted at him. And he did. Then his blind fold got lifted. And he saw that he had shot a boy. A guy he knew from home. His best friend, Kevin. Dead.
Michel was with the rebels for about two weeks, when he got the chance to flee. He ran and I remember him telling us how much he ran and how terrified he was that they would catch him again. Luckily after three days he recognized a store he had been at before and the store keeper helped him get home.
However, this wasn’t the end of it. As his father was a known human rights activist he was a red flag for the rebels and got abducted for 7 months until he could flee and find refuge in Uganda and some more of the terrors that Michel has witnessed and talked about how the rebels came into his house and how he tried to stand up to them, at 10 years old, and how they simply laughed at him and made him watch them rape his mother and sisters.
He got lucky and in 2004 through a programme him and his mother and younger sister were able to come to Canada and start a new life. His older sisters being over 18 struggled to get a pass and one of them was killed before they could make it over.
The way he told it was so fascinating. He told us how bizarre and surreal some situations seemed for him and he made jokes about his idea of what Canada would be like. I think my favourite bit of that was the part when he told us that when he arrived in Canada by plane and the temperature said -40°C and everyone else was putting on clothes, he was confused and took them off as he had only ever known positive degrees.
What inspired me about him is how passionate he was, how much he wanted us to understand that there are more kids like him out there and that most aren’t as lucky as him and have a way out. To stand up in front of 1000, in my case, but I know he has spoken to bigger groups, and tell your story, a very emotional and terrible story takes so much courage and is something that we all need. To have people like this in the world who speak up and educate is so important. Another reason I think why Michel impressed me is that he was so close to us in age (he was born in 1988).
He has been a motivational speaker for a while and has been associated with Free the Children and ME to WE.
According to WarChild there are an estimated 250,000 child soldiers in the world today, being force to kill people and raid villages. It is not a life you would wish on anyone and I think that it is so important that there are people like Michel who tell us what it is like. I have to admit that before I had heard him speak, yes I knew about child soldiers, but I knew very little and I don’t think I fully understood. Michel is part of the reason I wanted to study international politics as it is a subject I can potentially go and work in NGOs with or apply for jobs within the UN and the EU which both have bodies that are able to address these issues.
I am going to leave links to Michel’s social media as well as an article about him and some organisations mentioned in the article below.
Organisations/ charities related to Child Soldiers: