An Inspiring Story of a Former Child Soldier & Refugee

Child Soldier Illustration
About a year ago my daughter had taken a book down from the shelf that I hadn’t included with her children’s stories. 
She asked me to read it to her and I hesitated as I wasn’t sure it was the right time, due to the topic. The book was titled Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War. It’s a graphic novel that’s part of the Citizen Kid collection of books that inform children about the world in order to inspire them to be better global citizens.
I hesitated because while it’s well written, I thought she was too young to understand the topic. However after thinking for a moment, I then agreed. You see she was 5 at the time, the same age as the main character in the story. I wanted her to be able to understand what life is like for children in different parts of the world and after a second consideration I thought she might be ready for such a conversation. 
I had purchased the book at a local YMCA Peace Week event after a talk given by speaker Michel Chikwanine, the United Nations Fellow for people of African descent. Michel was a former child soldier and the book tells his story. 
An inspiring story about a refugee and former child soldier
Michel Chikwanine - UN Fellow For People of African Descent
I had the chance to ask Michel several questions and I’d thought I’d share some of the insights with you…

 About writing the book

Michel had wanted to write a novel about his experience and when KidsCanPress approached him to do a graphic novel for children, he agreed. His experiences as a refugee and newcomer to Canada as well as the bullying he experienced in school motivated him to become a public speaker. He wanted to inform people about the plight of refugees and educate them about the people of Africa.

On parental influence

When asked about his mom, he explained that she taught him and his sisters about courage and the value of standing up for oneself and others. When asked about his father, he explains how he instilled in him the value of curiosity, knowledge seeking and being a life-long learner. 

What parents can do

With respect to the book, he explains how he hopes it helps foster curiosity in others about the rest of the world. He encourages parents to travel with their kids and work to foster compassion and empathy in them. Whether its collecting food for a food bank or discussing the realities of our modern societies and how they contribute to poverty in other regions of the world, he explains how necessary it is for us parents to learn, teach and engage our children in these discussions.

Overcoming adversity and healing

On going through a difficult time and overcoming adversity he explains how healing is a personal journey and mentions that he himself is still in a healing process. He mentioned that for others he wants them to know that they are not alone. There is always someone who will listen. He emphasizes the importance of being kind to oneself and not being afraid to talk about how you feel.

What we as consumers can do

When asked what we as parents and consumers can do, he mentioned how he encourages people to become aware of what’s going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), understanding that the exploitation and cheap purchase of minerals for our electronic devices has a negative impact on people living and mining for them in the DRC. He also strongly encourages people and parents to vote for people who care about global issues.
Overall, Michel’s talk was very inspiring and his story demonstrates how people are capable of incredible courage and resilience, and with the right guidance, support and mindset they can overcome adversity becoming a channel for positive change in the world.
A inspiring story about a refugee and former child solider.

Making a difference now

So if you’re wondering: “What are some steps we can take right now to make a difference?” There are definitely ways you can create change from where you are. They include the following:

Educating ourselves and our kids – becoming and raising global citizens

One way is to teach our kids about people in different parts of the world through the following: 
Travel – Travel is a great way to do this, if children are exposed to the local cultures, languages and people. Need tips to make traveling with your kids easier, check out: Tips for Traveling With Your Kids or Baby.
Books – Sometimes travel might not be in your budget, but books can help. Some recommended ones are Citizen Kid books you can have a look at here. Also, encouraging further discussion and research after reading stories about people in different parts of the world can help.
Activities – You can purchase or create activities at home that inspire learning about other parts of the world. One company that does this is Little Passports, it’s a subscription service where each month children receive a box full of information about a particular country.
Meals – Gathering recipes and cookbooks with foods from different cultures and serving meals from different parts of the world. One way to do this is to choose a culture or country of the week and serve foods from recipes originating there. Even if you don’t have time to do this, choosing ethnically diverse restaurants when you eat out and discussing the countries from where the recipes come from.
Community – Building or engaging in a diverse community of people with different backgrounds, religions, countries and cultures. This isn’t as easy in smaller communities, but still possible to a degree. If you’re in a place with a more diverse community, attending cultural events can be one way you do this.
Global view – Fostering a love for people from all over the world, not just one’s own country. Understanding that what people and countries do affects other people and countries.

How moms and all parents can make a difference

As parents what we purchase makes a difference and while it can be difficult to understand and research exactly where everything comes from, working on increasing our own knowledge to make better consumer choices can have an impact. We shouldn’t underestimate the purchasing power of people. Supporting companies with better ethical practices can have a ripple effect and encourage others to change their ways if they see consumers demanding products that are conflict free.


While electronics are everywhere, we don’t necessarily need a new phone, computer or tablet every year. If you knew that the minerals used to create them contribute to child labor or violence towards innocent civilians in another part of the world, would you still update them every time a new model came out? 
What would you do if you found out about companies trying to change how electronics are used, creating long lasting and easily reparable models? One such company is Fairphone. You can check them out here.


Diamonds are not exactly a girl’s best friend… The diamond mining industry is fueling conflict in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo. Often times children end up working in such mines due to poverty, and in some places they are forced to become child soldiers because of such conflict. Certification programs like the Kimberly Process aren’t always effective due to fake documentation and loopholes, meaning that there isn’t a guarantee that diamonds that are sold with such certifications aren’t conflict free.*

It takes community involvement

There is so much more that can be said with regards to our purchasing choices and decisions. As consumers we can make a difference, but it shouldn’t be our responsibility alone. Also, this doesn’t mean we should throw out products or items we have, but what can help is to make better choices as we are made aware of their impacts. An even greater difference can be made when entire communities and governments come together to create necessary changes to encourage companies to do better.


Photos and illustrations courtesy of: Michel Chikwanine and Claudia Dávila


Material from Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War written by Jessica Dee Humphreys and Michel Chikwanine and illustrated by Claudia Dávila is used by permission of Kids Can Press Ltd., Toronto. Illustrations © 2015 Claudia Dávila.

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