Books not Guns

 

In 1995, I was then working as Logistics Specialist for UNICEF in Uganda. The presence of the rebel group LRA (Lord Resistance Army) in northern Uganda was a challenge to International Humanitarian agencies. The LRA was engaged in armed conflict with Government forces in many parts of northern Uganda making it logistically difficult to deliver aid to the affected population.

We were on one such ‘Humanitarian Mission’ to distribute school text books in two primary schools in a rebel-held area. While going for such mission, we were required to take several security measures. The vehicle had to have ‘UN’ written in large letters bold enough to be visible from a distance. The bullet proof vehicle carried a UN and white flags to indicate the nature of our mission.

The driver was cautious and moved slowly while keeping a watchful eye on the road. Both sides of the road were overgrown elephant grass; who knew when a stray bullet from the bush could hit the vehicle.

We came to a military checkpoint. The driver slowed down. Soldiers at the checkpoint signaled us to stop.

One of them came forward and talked to the driver in a local language. Later we came to know the soldier was asking about our identity, destination and purpose of mission etc. etc. They asked the driver to open the rear door to check what we were carrying.

We saw a few ‘Child Soldiers’ in the group, carrying guns and staring at our vehicle with a blank look. Usually these children were abducted from different parts of the country. When they saw the vehicle loaded with text books, they just dropped their guns and ran for the books; picked up a few, started flipping and smelling the pages of the new books.

I have been short of words to describe the excitement we saw on their faces!

I felt their eyes were sending a message of peace to us saying ‘we want books not guns!’

UNICEF, along with its International partners, was engaged in the rescue and re-unification of those abducted children with their families. I was involved in arranging supplies and logistics in the implementation of these programs; setting up temporary shelter, providing emergency household supplies, and primary health care medication to children until they were reunited with their loved ones.

The questions remain: why these children were carrying guns instead of books?

Why the armed conflict, abductions, violence, political instability in many countries in Africa had taken away the childhood of innocent children and pushed them into the deadly game of war?

 

By: Kiriti Pal Chowdhury, Supply & Logistics Manager (Retired) UNICEF (Kiritic@gmail.com).

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