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Children & Youth

We are not soldiers

Photographer Aydin Matlabi sets out to depict the courage of children's and teenagers working to surmount the burden of being an ex-child soldier.

This story contains graphic content and viewers discretion is advised.

During the first and second civil conflicts which took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), all sides involved in the war actively recruited or conscripted child soldiers, known locally as Kadogos which is a Swahili term meaning "little ones" In 2011 it was estimated that 30,000 children were still operating with armed groups. The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), released a report in 2013 which stated that between 1 January 2012 and 31 August 2013 up to 1,000 children had been recruited by armed groups, and described the recruitment of child soldiers as "endemic".*

Photographer Aydin Matlabin created 'We are not soldiers' as a Fine Art photo series working in collaboration with the Aprojed project in the Northern Congo. The goal of the project was to depict the courage of children and teenagers working to surmount the burden of being an ex-child soldier. Many of them were victims, kidnaped and forced into an armed conflict, who now have finally found freedom. The trauma and stigma that still follows them, however, threatens to haunt them for the rest of their lives.

"I feel that their strength and power to surmount past violence needs to be showcased."
Aydin Matlabi

The Aprojed Project in collaboration with SOS Enfants France provides structure, stability and the opportunity to learn a skilled trade to former child soldiers displaced or orphaned by war. The participants are given hammers, saws and other necessary tools to learn to become professional woodworkers within six months to a year. The project runs from 8 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon, 6 days a week and not only is food provided but allocations are given to the families housing the children as well. The project is fundamentally community based as the participants learn their trade by fixing and creating infrastructure such as chairs and tables for the community. This not only empowers the children but also helps to combat the stigma associated with child soldiers and help with successful reintegration into their communities after the programs completion. The Aprojed project also offers important therapeutic resources as the founders of the center and the teachers are themselves former child soldiers and the children get to work alongside their peers who also escaped civil war, in a safe and structured environment. Upon the projects completion the goal is for the children to return to their communities with employable skills, however there exists also the opportunity to pursue a skills based higher education.*

By surrounding the subjects in the fabric Pagee, representing the cultural history and part of the land, Aydin wishes to show that the legacy of a nation is not based on fabrics but rather the children whose futures we must support for the strength of the community.

Other then much needed visibility these images are being used in a fine art exhibition where all financial gain is directly given to the children's and the organization supporting them.

Now it's your turn, keep the generosity wheel rolling

Please consider making a one-off or recurring donation to

Foundation 64

using the form below.

This story does not end here. Helping the

former child soldiers who are getting vocational training

will require your action too.

After sharing this story and helping spread awareness about their plight, you can:

-Donate to Foundation 64

-Volunteer with the Aprojed in northern Congo

This story was brought to you thanks to the good people at

Print Art

and their commitment to

enabling photographers to share their story in print.