EPHRC – Rehabilitating child soldiers in Mogadishu

Ahead of the TEDx Mogadishu idea-spreading conference on May 17, 2012,  Ilwad (Elle) Elman was interviewed by the BBC’s Dan Damon on World Update. Elle runs the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Mogadishu with her mom, Fartun. Her father was an ardent peace activist in the 1990s, spreading the mantra “Put down the gun, pick up the pen” around Somalia, but was assassinated in 1996. Elle returned to Mogadishu three years ago while the conflict still raged on in the city. She works closely with victims of rape and sexual assault, as well as rehabilitating child soldiers by teaching them vocational skills.

The Center was created in early 1990s. Elle told Dan Damon,  “Since then we have combined life-saving interventions and services to respond to people who have been affected by the conflict.” She continued with a story illustrating that peace is possible:

Elle: One of the programs that we pride ourselves on is the programs that we provide to children involved in armed conflicts, the youth that we help are from all different kinds of affiliations, whether government, oppositions groups or just even unorganized militia clans. And this young man, he was just about 16 years old, he was actually from Al-Shabab and when he first came to our program we was very closed off and he was forced to come to come the program by his father who was desperate to get him away from this group. So he joined the program and he was involved in the electricity section and he was terrified–terrified to start the practical (because we teach both theory and practical sessions). He was very proud too. So he didn’t want to say anything. He started to gain some confidence and he became one of the top students. After he finished the program, I was starting a similar program in the central part of Somalia and I actually hired him to be an assistant teacher. So I took him to central Somalia and he became a teacher and then after that program he was teaching in Gaalkacyo, an area which he has never even been to, but he was offered the job and he’s a teacher now and his life has changed incredibly. It always makes me so happy. Whenever he used to get a paycheck when he first started working, he used to call me and thank me which is really amazing.

Dan Damon: Do the extremists, the militants, leave him alone? He is an alternative to what you might call their backward-looking vision of Somalia.

Elle: We are thankful and blessed that we haven’t had any direct attacks or anything like that because, I believe, we are very neutral. Our goal is not to tell anyone what is right or what is wrong, but to provide alternative livelihoods, to provide people with sustainable skills that they can use for employment so that they do not have to resort to being part of the conflict.  We don’t necessarily try to recruit or serve children from one particular party.

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