Rwanda: former child soldier hugs mother at last
Eight years after having been separated in tragic circumstances, a teenager and his mother have been reunited thanks to the joint efforts of the ICRC and the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (RDRC).
In 1994, tens of thousands of people fled the genocide in Rwanda. Among them was Judith,* her two little girls and their one-year-old brother, Jado.* Following the death of the children’s father, the family went to live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Some time later, a conflict broke out between armed groups in Walikale, in North Kivu, where they had settled. Parents in the area took to hiding their children in the jungle to save them from being conscripted by one of the armed groups.
In 2002, disaster struck: a major military operation took place while Jado was hiding in the jungle and Judith had no choice but to flee the area with her two daughters. They lost all contact with Jado.
Judith then decided to return to Rwanda. Heartsick over the loss of her son, she did everything she could to find him. She visited the ICRC office in Kigali repeatedly to see if there was any news of him.
After his family fled, Jado had been discovered by one of the armed groups. He was only nine years old at the time, and he was forced to join up. For the next eight years, he fought with the group. Then one day, something happened: Jado was listening to the radio when he heard a former comrade talk about leaving the group and starting up a new life in Rwanda. Although Jado was born in Rwanda, he hardly remembered the country and knew very little about his home town. However, the story he heard on the radio opened up a new world of possibilities to him and he made up his mind to return to Rwanda.
In April 2009, Jado made his way to the Muhazi rehabilitation centre for former child soldiers in Rwanda, where he enrolled in a special training programme. The centre put him in touch with a team of ICRC delegates in Kigali, who immediately undertook to search for his relatives.
“Words cannot express my joy”
Ever since she first heard about the ICRC’s family links activities in July 2008 on the radio, Judith had followed every radio programme on the subject, including one called Isange mu bawe (“Your family awaits you ” ), produced by RDRC. On 24 April 2010, she was listening to the radio as usual when she heard a young man talking about his search for his family. She stood transfixed, convinced that she recognized Jado’s voice. ”I couldn’t contain my joy – I ran off to tell the whole family.”
Meanwhile, the ICRC’s office in Kigali was able to confirm, by cross-checking the data it had collected, that Jado was indeed Judith’s son. A meeting was organized on 5 May, with the RDRC’s consent, at the Muhazi centre where Jado, now 17, was living. On the way there, Judith, accompanied by an ICRC employee, couldn’t stop staring at the photo that Jado had sent her. When she reached the main entrance to the building, Judith came face to face with about 20 teenagers all clamouring: “It’s my mother, it’s my mother.”
Slowly and shyly, Jado stepped forward. Judith rushed towards him and, after eight long years, they tenderly hugged each other.
“Words cannot express my joy,” said Judith, overcome with emotion.
* Not the real name