Barbie with a Prayer Mat: The Child Soldier’s Struggle

Barbie with a Prayer Mat: The Child Soldier’s Struggle

July 8, 2017 | Author: Alveena Bakhshi, social activist and entrepreneur. Author of "Shot to Make Look Good"
Fade
All dreams are beginning to fade
like beggars from streets
as night falls.

I have been working with youth of all ages since I was a kid myself. More formally, when I graduated from college, I took a year off to skill youth with special needs at Navjivini in my hometown Patiala. It was then a run-down bungalow many parents would abandon their kids at, and some came by to pay fees but chose not to see their kids. Today Navjivini is a premier institute which imparts education and training to teachers and instructors.

It is not always possible to find the time or the avenues for community service but it has been something I have sought since I immigrated to the US. My son was still in India with my parents and I was going to school and working but I started helping my former boss Prema Sagar with raising funds in the US for the Genesis Foundation in India which she and her husband Jyoti formed to provide medical treatment to children with certain disorders.

I taught Youth About Business, as the name goes, for four consecutive years while managing the volunteer effort for the same with Moody’s. From 2012 onwards I started to support Greater Life Newark which helps keep at risk kids off the streets, and last year helped my employer Brillio with a CSR program for Dreams for Kids DC to provide computer literacy to kids with special needs, namely a design studio using adaptive technologies.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Girls project by Child Soldiers International
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Girls project by Child Soldiers International.

It is in the same spirit that I became interested in the issue of child soldiers. Because of a narrow official definition of child soldiers, their count is 300,000. The unofficial count is manifold. And about 40% of these are girls, some of who take to it to avoid early marriages. It is a highly complex social problem also because it has always been economically advantageous to send youth to war. And in some countries child soldiers are even glorified, such as Russia’s Youth Army which recruited 40,000 kids in the first year alone, last year.

When I spoke with the Child Soldiers team last week we were discussing a global information cloud they are launching early next year. There is broad consensus that technology can do a lot to prevent recruitment, mobilize worldwide response to return child soldiers to their homes, and bring individuals together to help reintegrate former child soldiers. There is however very little evidence of this yet. But we are hopeful this will change soon.

Demobilized child soldiers in Central African Republic (CAR). Child Soldiers International provides training to various stakeholders, including military and child protection organizations to prevent children from being recruited as child soldiers by rebel groups.
Demobilized child soldiers in Central African Republic (CAR). Child Soldiers International provides training to various stakeholders, including military and child protection organizations to prevent children from being recruited as child soldiers by rebel groups.

In 2016 Child Soldiers International, with their work cut out in research and advocacy to stop the use of child soldiers worldwide, decided to launch my poetical homage to Child Soldiers in a book, Shot to Make Look Good. The book has a foreword by Prof. Mark A. Drumbl, renowned for his legal work on child soldiers and their reintegration into society, and an afterword by Kelechi Mbiamnozie, founder of the Nigerian Council and voice against child marriage.

It has been an honor for me to be able to join my voice with that of the child soldiers, in particular girl child soldiers. ‘Make Home Home Again’ is a recently launched program by several agencies to help girl soldiers rebuild their own lives. It is of these girls and girls all over the world who are looking to find their voice that I share my favorite poem from Shot to Make Look Good:

Barbie with a prayer mat
I am not a Barbie
with a prayer mat.
I am neither

Alveena Bakhshi is a 2003 graduate of the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, New York, an Advisor to the Dean’s Challenge Grant, an incubator program for ICT start-ups in the social sector, and mentor at Columbia Business School’s Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator as well as 9 Mile Labs in Seattle. She is a single mom and a finance and technology professional living in New York since 2001. To read more about Shot to Make Look Good, or purchase through Amazon, visit the Child Soldiers International website here. All proceeds from sales of the book go towards Child Soldiers International.