Pat: This morning we met with a group of former child soldiers. The horrors they faced and atrocities they committed during Liberia’s 15-year civil war are unimaginable to most Americans. One man told us of a rape he committed when his SBU (small boy unit) attacked a university campus in Monrovia. Years later, the woman he raped spotted him on the street. She spoke out. He ignored her cries.
Another man, David, had a more gruesome story to tell. As a child soldier high on heroin and cocaine, David made a bet with a boy in his unit on the sex of a woman’s unborn baby. After killing the woman “with a bullet,” David said he used a bayonet to slice open her stomach. It was a boy, and the man I interviewed won 1,500 Liberian dollars, about $15 U.S. today. He told me that incident remains one of his biggest regrets in life. This is only one of the atrocities that the boys told us were committed during the destructive civil war in Liberia. Men, like General Buttnaked, would force these boys into drugs and other crimes. These boys were as young as 11 and 14 when they were recruited (kidnapped and forced to fight) into an army that provided them weapons and drugs. Their sad tales of family rejection, addiction and living on the streets; in a cemetery, in tombs they dug up will reduce even the toughest man to tears.
Now that the war is over, thousands of boys are still addicted to drugs and living on the streets. General Buttnaked has turned from his wicked ways, and in an effort to repent of his past wrongs he is taking boys in and helping them get drug free and giving them an education. They are now sober and in school, where they hope to become drivers so they may soon earn an honest living in this extremely complex country.
James: The experience with General Buttnaked’s boys has totally thrown me. In one breath these boys have done some pretty horrific things. But now, they all seem so eager to get back into society to help their fellow men get out of the state they are in. When we were packing up the equipment, two of the boys, Abraham and Sam, gave me a hug and told me that I am their best friend. What a stark contrast between what they did and what they are today. I honestly think that it is all from the influence of one man trying to repent by giving back to his country.
This is exactly what Liberia needs; men and women that will stand up and help the fallen children.
Sahbu has pledged to help these young men by providing funding for their schooling and support for their recovery. Some were only plucked from the streets a few months ago, where they were still addicted to drugs and committing violent armed robberies even though the war in Liberia had been over for a decade.
Gathering these stories has been one of the greatest challenges I have faced in my career as a journalist and public relations professional. These are good people who were trapped in a horrible situation. But I only visit this country. These men, women, boys and girls must live here and face these brutal challenges every day. In telling their stories I hope you will be inspired to act.
For as little as $120 you could help send a Liberian child to school for a year, a child whose family would otherwise not be able to afford the education fees, who might end up working 12 hours a day on the street selling everything from packs of chewing gum to bags of water to sex.
A few years ago I was inspired by the extended Parkinson family when the group agreed to forego Christmas presents in exchange for helping a charity of a particular family’s choice. I only hope this year the Parkinsons choose Sahbu as the beneficiary for this tremendous donation. If $120 is all that is needed to keep a child off the streets in Liberia, imagine how far $500 or $1,000 could go in helping the children of West Africa experience what in many places is considered merely a human right.