“Whenever people talked about guns, soldiering or the conflict I was so scared that I shook. I could see my childhood going away, no games, no fun. You can’t play catch with guns. I wanted war to go away.” — Som.
When Som’s parents found out their child’s name was on the army register and he would soon be conscripted into the military, they were worried about his future. They packed their shoulder bags and left their remote mountain village to search out our children’s home. They had heard about us, and they hoped desperately that we could help their son stay out of the military.
If you saw him at 10 years old, Som would not have seemed like a candidate for being conscripted into the military, but that’s exactly why he was here. When he arrived at our safe house deep in cartel territory, he was pretty reserved. He could not read, write, or even speak the national language.
Som is not the only child facing this situation. Right now many children in Shan State, Myanmar face the decision to flee their home villages to avoid forced conscription into the military. It is not unusual for children Som’s age and younger to leave home, travel for hours, and live alone for years just for the opportunity to receive an education or avoid the military. These children are often vulnerable, alone, afraid, and in desperate need of support.
Fortunately, we were able to help Som. We moved him from our safe home in a very volatile area to a larger city outside of the conflict area. We worked on papers to get him placed where he could be safe from conscription and he could study. His transformation speaks for itself. Now, he loves to read and to sing. He even leads the other children in songs, strumming happily on a beat-up guitar.
When you ask Som about his dreams he replies, “I want to be a teacher!” He also shared with us in gratitude, “Thank you to you who are supporting me to have an opportunity to study at school. I was afraid to join the military as a child. Afraid someone will shoot me. I was afraid I would not see my parents again before I died.”
A lot has changed in the past couple months. In sections of the Shan State there has been a massive crackdown by the military. Children, including many in our program, are being forcibly conscripted into the military. Leaders of children’s homes, churches and schools, are being thrown into jail. Children are even more vulnerable to exploitation when those who protect them are targeted.
Fortunately, Som and his 30 friends are in a secure location outside of the main conflict area. However, the outcome for many of the children we are supporting is hanging in the balance. We are moving as quickly as we can to protect these children. We are trying to get them to safety and to support families left vulnerable by the crackdown.
To do this we need your support. You can support us just by sharing this post to help create awareness. You can also support us by giving to our Holiday Campaign at https://www.classy.org/campaign/2018-holiday-campaign/c208374, or by donating at the website at www.projectak47.com