Playgrounds In War Zones

Nur joined a militia group at the age of ten. He was bribed with food at a time when there was nothing but hunger at home and fighting all around him. Growing up in his home country of Somalia, he cannot recall a time without conflict. Like most youths and young adults that we come across in our trauma recovery groups, he describes a childhood rampant with death, hunger and fleeing from fighting. During his four 'very long and bloody' years with the group he was trained to throw hand grenades and says that the pervasive rule was 'to obey or get killed'. Nur still struggles with guilt, especially for killing people.

Our Happy Hearts trauma healing groups focus on disengaging the cycle of anxiety, anger and negativity that often afflicts those who have experienced trauma or compounded stress. The simple techniques are surprisingly successful. After completing the program Nur said that he felt calm and clean in his heart. For the first time he began to feel hope.

To restore faith, not only in the possibility of a hopeful future but also in oneself, is a significant step in the healing and reintegration process. When even the dignity of your own moral compass is stripped away, it's a challenge to learn to trust yourself and your own basic judgements again. While dealing with the trauma and loss, we encourage everyone to focus on celebrating their strengths, such as their incredible resilience, and to believe that they have the capacity to not only make it in life, but also thrive and make a valuable contribution.

Ali, now seventeen, was also forcefully recruited at the age of ten. His life was threatened if he didn't join. He was with a militant group for five years, during which he feared for his life and saw many of his friends die. Some were even trained as suicide bombers, but these he said, were often 'persuaded' for a long time. He described the treatment he received as horrible and felt that respect for humanity did not exist. Ali says that he was brainwashed and found it increasingly difficult to understand the difference between right and wrong, until he could barely think for himself. However, his closing words at our trauma healing group showed a resolved and clear-minded message to the world; “We are brothers. We are not supposed to kill each other. Let's live in peace.”

Stories like Ali's and Nur's are not uncommon in a country plagued by hostilities that span decades, but surprisingly little help is still available for children and youth fortunate enough to break away from their direct involvement in conflict. Clearly a lot more has to be done.

Somalia has only very recently ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, (CRC), and even though it is impossible to make militia groups comply, the government is working towards having a child free army by the end of 2016.

At Happy Hearts we believe that no child should be without access to family, education and play. These are essential building blocks for individual development and a healthy society, especially one severely fractured by war, without which it is impossible to heal or thrive. Our dream is that one day there will be a playground and school within walking distance of every child in Somalia. In addition to our home and school for war orphaned children, we are currently working on a project to build the first known public playground and community center in South-Central Somalia, to make trauma healing, education and play easily accessible to the community in the capital of Mogadishu.

We have the privilege of seeing the country of Somalia, commonly known as the most unstable and dangerous place on earth, emerge from beneath its war ruins stronger and more resilient than ever. We are beginning to see lost childhoods restored and those traumatized by war remembering to play, dance and sing once again. We hope that one day playgrounds and schools will litter the skyline of Somalia and that AK-47's and the dangers of forced militia subscription will be a distant thing of the past.