Tricked into fighting, Jean-Pierre, 17, is now back home with his family in Burundi.
“I was tricked. I felt so bad inside,” Jean-Pierre [NAME CHANGED] said. “This man had lied and told me that he would give me a good honourable job. I thought about my family and I was afraid that I would never see them again.”
Charged with involvement in armed groups and imprisoned, Jean-Pierre is now living in his community again.
“We were held alongside adults and it was very difficult. They wanted us to drink and to take drugs. We had to work out how to avoid them,” Jean-Pierre said.
Through UNICEF support, he’s now safe at home, and has received a school uniform and books as part of a special reintegration pack.
‘I want to start a new life in school. I thought I would never see my friends again and I am very happy to go back to school,” says the teenager — who was among 58 children arrested and detained in July 2015.
UNICEF and partners have also provided a three-year scholarship for each child.
“Sometimes at night I think about the children who were with me ” Jean-Pierre said. “I feel very afraid and I am really sad that so many things changed in my life, and there are so many people I have lost, and so much time….”
“Being in school gives me the chance to become someone new. It is like I have been cleansed of my history and my new life is like a dream,” he continues.
His reintegration also includes psychosocial support for himself, as well as for his family.
Jean-Pierre eats lunch at home.
“We only ate once a day,” he said, recalling his time in the central prison. “We had beans and cassava flour and corn and rice. I cooked,” he said of his time spent training with weapons.
About his future, Jean-Pierre says “I want to catch up with the friends I had before I left — they are now in the tenth grade and I am in the seventh.… I want to study to have a diploma and get a job. I want to be a doctor to help others. I have hope because I’m doing well [in] school.”
“I prayed a lot to forget during that time,” speaking of his time spent in the forest, training to fight. “Prayer was the only thing that gave me peace,” said Jean-Pierre, holding his Bible, “I was so happy to return to my home.”
In his district, Jean-Pierre gets ready for a football match. After UNICEF pressed to move the boys from an adult prison to a re-education centre — one of two recently set up with UNICEF support — the children gained access to basic services, non-formal education and recreation activities.
And the children receive visits from a specialist social worker once or twice a week in their communities.
“I still play football now for the school team. Football is my thing. I like playing with my friends and keeping out of trouble.”
“I was very happy when I could see my friends and family. I can say that I feel ‘reintegrated’ now. I feel comfortable in my family and in the community and I meet with my social worker regularly.”
Jean-Pierre and his mother, at home.