How the Trust Fund for Victims has transformed the life of a former child soldier in the DRC

By Elvis Katsana

27-year-old Kambalé is a former child soldier who comes from Béni in the province of North Kivu. He managed to re-establish himself in his community, and nowadays he works as a motorcycle taxi driver in Bunia, thanks to help from the Trust Fund for Victims in Ituri.

Kambalé fought for the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC). The armed group’s military commander, Bosco Ntaganda, is on trial at the ICC for the alleged crimes he committed in Ituri in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Sergeant child soldier

“I was taken by force from the village of Nyoka, where I was visiting my family in 2002”, he recalls. “Five days later, I was suddenly named a sergeant in Ntaganda’s rebel force.”

When he was a soldier in the forest, he saw trucks arrive and they were given arms, without knowing their origin. “With a new weapon in your hands, it was easy to get anything (gold, food, money) in the villages where we were in charge”.

He doesn’t know how long he fought with the rebels, but he thinks it was for about four years. He managed to escape when one of his leaders asked him to run an errand in a neighbouring village. He simply didn’t return.

Reintegration kit

But, he says, that’s old news. In 2013, Kambalé received a reintegration kit from the Trust Fund for Victims, a programme established in the Rome Statute to help the victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity. These kits contain supplies to develop and sustain income-generating activities. They include goats for breeders, sewing machines for tailors, cooking equipment for caterers and equipment for other small-scale enterprises.

Kambalé sold his equipment to get some cash and started hustling. “I didn’t have much money, but I was able to earn more, and then I bought a Senke taxi. I ride in strategic areas in Ituri province to earn a living”, he says.

“It’s true that it was difficult to get the $850 to buy the motorcycle. It taught me a lot about war, that a motorcycle is worth more than a truck full of weapons”, he says.

Good memories of the hell

He says he had good experiences despite the suffering. For the first time in his life, he did not feel fear. He’s also pleased with himself that he didn’t kill or rape anyone, which was not the case of his comrades in arms. But he was good in extorting humble people in the villages.

“It’s hard to make a living with a motorcycle because of the cost of living in the city. I have to transport people, and I have to sweat a lot to make ends meet. But what I really am happy about is that people can trust me, and I’m helping to develop society in an honest fashion.”

Kambalé plans to buy two more motorcycles, thanks to the savings he’s made. He’s also counting on more money from the Trust Fund, which he should receive at the end of this year. It will help him create jobs for other young people. Unemployment rates in the region are very high, so he hopes that jobs like this will help encourage fewer young people to join the armed groups.

Lead image: Kambalé driving his motorcycle taxi in Bunia (Elvis Katsana/Justice Hub)

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