"When I was twelve years old I carried a gun. Now I hope to become a school director."

Papy was integrated into an armed group at the age of 12. Today, three years later, Papy is back to school.

"I integrated into the armed group in 2011, when I wasn’t yet 12 years old," remembers Papy, now 15. Like many in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Papy’s family has struggled to cope with the consequences of the on-going armed conflict.

Eight years ago, his father passed away when he was hit by a stray bullet. "After my father’s death, I found it more and more difficult to study." Eventually Papy dropped out of school because his family was no longer able to pay his school fees.

Out of school, Papy became an easy target. He spent every day in the village with nothing to do, hanging out with other kids his age. Some of them were involved with a local armed group. "I too joined the group and I was actively involved in a number of battles," says Papy. Like the other combatants, he took drugs to cope, especially when on patrol.

War child’s educational progam in Eastern DRC. For Privacy reasons Papy is not portrayed.

Back to school

Early last year, Papy gathered the courage to speak with the commander of the armed group. He asked to be released so he could continue his studies. Surprisingly, his request was granted. Papy left the group and joined the catch-up education activities provided through War Child’s safe space. At the safe space, he was also able to participate in life-skills activities to help learn to cope with experiences and emotions, and build positive relationships with his peers.

Now in the sixth grade, Papy finds studying difficult, yet he continues. He works in the fields of local farmers to pay for his school fees. It’s hard work, and Papy is not fond of it, but he is determined to finish primary and secondary school and reach his goal of one day becoming the director of a primary school. "In my village, there are only children growing up in extreme poverty," he says. "As a school director, I can try to change that."

 War Child's education project in eastern DRC is supported by the EU Children of Peace fund.

More about War Child's work in DR Congo