Today is International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers.
It is estimated there have been about 18,000 kids forced to join armed groups in Colombia. Like in other parts of the world, children join looking for food and shelter. Often, they are kidnapped. Boys become cannon fodder while girls are turned into sex slaves.
There are extreme challenges that a former child soldier faces when rebuilding a life after war.
Emmanuel Jal found music helped him cope. Emmanuel was a child soldier in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army when he was seven years old. For five years, he fought with the SPLA in Ethiopia and Sudan.
Today, Emmanuel is a celebrated music artist.
Emmanuel sang: “I’m a war child / I believe I’ve survived for a reason / To tell my story, to touch lives.” He defined a child soldier as a “war child, child without a mama.”
When in the bush, Emmanuel ran away alongside other child soldiers. They starved. Many of his friends died and to prevent himself from eating his friends’ rotten flesh, Emmanuel ate snails, roaches, and snakes. Three months later, he and a much smaller group reached the town of Waat.
Emma McCune, a British aid worker, adopted Emmanuel and smuggled him to Kenya. While in Nairobi as a teen, Emmanuel found solace in music (hip-hop, rap with soul, gospel). His first single, “All We Need Is Jesus,” was a hit in Kenya and received airplay in the U.K..
(Emma married a rebel commander of the SPLA, Riak Machar, and saved more than 150 children from war. Interestingly, the character of Quinette Hardin in Philip Caputo’s novel, “Acts of Faith,” is based on Emma. And Deborah Scroggins’s “Emma’s War,” is a semi-biography of Emma.)
Music helped Emmanuel find life again. In a Ted Talk, he said, “Music is where I see heaven.” … “I don’t like to talk about my story, so let me put my story into music.”
Download the movie “War Child,” based on Emmanuel’s story, here.
Buy his autobiography, “War Child: A Child Soldier’s Story,” here. It received praise from The Washington Post: “very much worth reading.” … “He’s often tired and sad and lonely, but in ‘War Child’ he succeeds in making this crazy war and all its ramifications utterly grounded, specific and real.”