Bukeni Tete Waruzi

Yesterday, human rights activist and film maker Bukeni Tete Waruzi visited Pope John XXIII High School in Everett, MA to speak out on behalf of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As Founder and Executive Director of AJEDI-Ka, a non-governmental organization, dedicated to reintegrating child soldiers into society, Waruzi is intimately familiar with the horror stories of child soldiers.
“Since working on the issue of child soldiers, I’ve been arrested four times and beaten twice. But we have still managed to demobilize over 300 child soldiers.”
In the DRC civil war has been raging on and off since 1996. Government forces under President Joseph Kabila (son of slain President Lawrence Kabila) face off against ten different rebel group, backed by neighboring countries, over the country's wealth of natural resources. The fighting is carried out by children aged 8 - 16. Thirty-five percent of soldiers on both sides (government and rebels) are children. Some of these child soldiers are abducted, while others are given over by their parents. Drugs are used to anesthetize child soldiers to the cruelties they are forced to commit.

The life of a child soldier can only be described as a nightmare, especially for girl soldiers who suffer abuse and sexual exploitation by commanders, raped and forced to birth the children of their tormentors. Waruzi has documented these abuses in two documentaries produced in conjunction with Witness, a foundation that teaches human rights workers how to use video to document abuses. The latest video, "A Duty to Protect: Justice for Child Soldiers in the DRC" tells the horrific tale of girl soldiers in the DRC. It is a direct appeal to the International Criminal Court, which chose Congo as its first investigation. The ICC considers the recruitment of child soldiers to be a war crime. Waruzi has been invited to speak before the ICC at The Hague. He plans to produce a third video on AIDS/HIV, one of the unspoken consequences of the sexual exploitation of child soldiers.

Traveling the countryside with a video projector and a white sheet, Waruzi screens his videos in villages throughout the DRC, making the plight of child soldiers better understood. His work in the DRC is two-fold, to convince parents not to send their children to fight, and to help reintegrate demobilized child soldiers into the life of their village. This reintegration is incredibly difficult, as villagers fear all soldiers. They know the atrocities these children have committed which makes them unwelcome in the only place they can call home. Waruzi regularly works with local priests and pastors to welcome back these child soldiers. He then helps to provide them with everything they need for the transition, including clothes and money for education. (There is no government funded education in this, the resource wealthy country.)

Internationally, Waruzi is hoping to raise awareness of the plight of theDRC's child soldier s to other young people. Screening both of his movies before the student body and faculty of Pope John XXIII, he found his target audience. The students were hungry to know more. One student, a new arrival from Liberia who understands better than anyone the plight of those in the war zone, asked what, exactly, Waruzi was able to do for the child soldiers. So far he has demobilized over 300 child soldiers, returned them to health and then to their villages, and helped them to begin their education.

In response to this important work, the students of Pope John presented waruzi with a check for $1200 to continue his work. In thanking the students, he promised to return next year and give them an update on his work.

Comments

Linda said…
Jason, Thank you for letting me know this, I had no idea what is happenning in Zaire/DRC! I have been trying to understand the source of the conflicts and tragedies in this area. It is beyond horror. Keep up the efforts to tell others, Linda