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22 January 2020 - Story

“They gave us weapons to shoot”: A child soldier’s story

Peter and his pigeons. Louis Leeson / Save the Children

Peter* wants to tell you his story. But we can't show his face to protect his identity.

Peter* is a gentle, smiling 14 year-old. He loves school, especially maths, drama and drawing.

But just a year ago, Peter* was living as a child soldier with an armed group in South Sudan.

“They gave us weapons for shooting,” he says. “They trained you how to load a gun, how to put in a bullet and release the trigger to shoot.”

Peter* was just 10 years old when he was recruited. He was living peacefully with his aunt and sister in their village - "It has mangoes and trees," he remembers. "There were very many children. We used to go together to play football."

But then the war in South Sudan spread to their village. “I’d never heard the sound of guns before. I was afraid I would be shot, so I ran.”

In the chaos he got separated from his family. “The fighting broke out and each person went his or her way. We ran to the bush and hid. It was difficult to go back and get food because the soldiers were everywhere. So we stayed in the bush with the rebels.”

Alone and struggling to find food, he was soon recruited into an armed group. He spent the next few years with them, not allowed to leave.

But Peter’s dream of going back to school gave him the strength to escape. One day - during heavy fighting with government soldiers - he saw an opportunity.

“I picked up my clothes and I ran away from them.”

He kept running until he crossed the border into Uganda.

“My heart was happy when I arrived in Uganda. I saw schools and hospitals. I was excited and said this is a place where you can at least study and get medication when you are sick.”

However, his troubles were far from over. In Uganda he opened a small shop to try and support himself, but all his stock was stolen, including all his clothes and most of his money.

Peter loves to draw. Louis Leeson / Save the Children

He was hungry and in need of support, but with his last few shillings he bought two pigeons – one of which he named Am, meaning ‘alone’ in his local Gimunu language.

“I named it Am because I had lost everything. It was the only thing left for me.”

He cares for the pigeons diligently and Am is now his most treasured possession. He loves the way they fly.

“I’d like to fly like an aeroplane flies, into the sky where nothing is disturbing it like the noises of war that are happening here on earth.”

When Peter reached safety we helped him find some sense of normality again. Our case workers provided psychosocial support so he felt able to return to school and benefit from the education he so desperately dreamed of.

He misses his family, and fears the armed group he ran from, but he's making lots of friends. "I'm someone who enjoys meeting people. What makes you feel good is the company of friends at school. We discuss things together, we play football together, we go around together."

Now he’s learning again he has big plans for both himself and his country.

“When I finish my studies and graduate, I want to become the President of the Republic of South Sudan!”

“I want to focus on the future and not turn backwards.”

Peter and Am, his pigeon. Louis Leeson / Save the Children

* Name changed to protect identity