I use my story for social and emotional learning and to raise the level of emotional intelligence amongst young people. It's a form of education and how history has been painted by our ancestors; through music, poetry, sculpture or maybe just drawing or carving on the walls and on trees.
The situation in Sudan before it split into two was complex, yet simple at the same time. Basically the government wanted to clean out specific ethnic groups in order to access and control the land and its resources. They used religion and faith as a way to extend empathy and rally communities against each other. The result of this was a long, bitter war and the death of 2.5 million people. This included my mom, all my aunties from my mom's side and all my uncles except two.
The first time I experienced war, I thought the world was ending. I used to hear the elders saying the world would come to an end; the signs were famine, wars, brothers against brothers, earthquakes, etc. Hearing the sound of bombs, feeling the ground shaking and seeing explosions in different colors with people screaming and running in different directions was terrifying. We ran from one village to another, and my family members were scattered. I didn't know how or where to reach for anyone.
During this time my father was a Commander for the SPLA: The Sudanese People's Liberation Army. An order was given out that children would be collected and taken to school in Ethiopia, so my father ordered hundreds of children to be taken by force from their families. Parents were becoming upset and as a result, my father sent me out as an example.
We walked hundreds of miles. On the way children were eaten by wild animals, others starved, and some died from dehydration. When crossing rivers, some were carried away by the current, and others were eaten by crocodiles or smashed by hippos.
Arriving in Ethiopia we were full of mixed emotion, excitement and sadness. The camp was a sea of lost children with 6- and 7-year-olds forced to bury their own dead. We went to school for a while but SPLA commanders were also infiltrating the camp and asking who wanted to be trained to fight for revenge. I volunteered myself and was trained in a near by camp. The training was difficult, but I wanted to go and revenge for my family go and seek justice through an AK47. We were not given drugs and had a set of rules we had to adhere to. We were not allowed to raid villages, or kill civilians.
After the training we were brought back to the refugee camp and the older boys were collected to go to the battlefields.
Being in the battlefield was more of choice for me because most of the time I wasn't selected to joint the front line. I was liked by the commanders and made them laugh.
"The weak don't survive, Talemgi told us, your pain will teach you how to be strong, keep your tears on the inside like men, if you can't carry the wounded then shoot them, but never leave the gun behind." -- excerpt from Warchild: A boy soldier's story by Emmanuel Jal (published by Little Brown)
Those words have stuck in my mind. The skills I learned helped me to survive but the training hardened me. War destroys people's souls. Most people focus on physical injuries but the invisible injuries can take a lift time to heal and affects the lives of generations to come. Ninety-eight percent of the population in South Sudan has lost somebody within their close family. The effect it has on children is enormous. A child's place should be in school, not a battlefield, but wherever there is war children can become soldiers.
The U.S. can shift a global change if they want to. They have the facilities, institutions and position to activate change. The best way to stop the use of child soldiers is to prevent wars from happening in the first place. As an example to the rest of the world, the U.S. need to invest in peace. A lot of funding is in place for arms and defence, but this should be matched with a tangible program for creating and sustaining peace. Imagine how much the government could ultimately save in money and lives?
This post was produced by The Huffington Post and the Children in Adversity Policy Partnership as part of a series in conjunction with the latter's "A Bold Initiative for Children." For more information about this event, click here.