September 04, 2017

"I went home from school one day and found our house burnt to ashes and my family missing"

Mohamed felt he had no option but to become a child soldier

Photo credit: UNICEF

Mohamed Sallat

16-year-old former child soldier from Somalia

A teenage boy from Somalia tells how he went from being a happy youngster to a street kid and child soldier - and how he longs to finish his education.

My name is Mohamed Sallat. I am 16 years old and I was born and raised in the heart of Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia. 

My childhood was one of the best because my parents took me to a madrassa at an early age, where I learned our Muslim religion in Arabic.

Later I went to preschool where I learned many things, like how to write my name and counting in English.

I was privileged to join primary education and it was good. I did my assignments well and went to school on time.

In the evening, I played with my small brother. We watched cartoons and sometimes I taught him how to ride his new bike that dad bought for him. 

I was a happy child. Playing with my peers over the weekend and strolling around our estate was one of the best things I remember about my childhood.

In late 2006 there was a disagreement in my country that brought tension and I remember life changed from peaceful to a lot of commotion in the area. 

Mohamed was born and raised in the heart of Mogadishu

Photo credit: R Jones

I had never seen military soldiers - only in a cartoon I liked to watch with my brother. But for the first time I saw many of them passing in our estate - and it was not the same.

Later that year there was civil war and many people were killed in my country. I remember seeing so many dead bodies one day at the backyard of our house. 

I was shocked and I cried so much because it was too much to take in for a 10-year-old. The worst part about the nights was the sound of guns, which was like a torture.

I remember my mother was able to go to the market to buy vegetables any more. My father lost his job and his car was burned by angry people who were not happy with the government.

I was so down seeing my father speechless - and at the same time confused. I remember telling my father it is OK at only 10 years old.

I tried going to school but I found no teachers there and most of my school mates had run away to neighbouring Kenya and some to rural Somali. 

I used to sleep in a box during the night - hiding away from soldiers since I did not know the difference between peacekeeping troops and the bad soldiers.

Mohamed Sallat

I was bitter because I knew then that my life could not be the same again and I had to leave with the consequences, which was no education any more. But I was still strong because at least my parents and little brother were still alive. 

I went home from school that day and what I saw I could not believe. Our house was burnt to ashes and I could not see my parents. 

I tried asking around if anyone had seen my parents but they all said no. My world was slowly crumbling down and I felt like a walking corpse.

I started walking, looking for my parents and brother, but I could not find them. Due to the hot and dry weather I was hungry, I had no food and no place to sleep.

I took a box and stored it in a hidden tunnel. That’s where I used to sleep during the night - hiding away from soldiers since I did not know the difference between peacekeeping troops and the bad soldiers.

As a young child he had only seen soldiers in cartoons until they began appearing on the streets

Photo credit: Expert Infantry

I survived for six months and one day I just found myself back at the school where I used to learn.When I arrived, the elementary class which was previously full had only 10 children and no teacher. Just a student from an upper grade teaching my classmates.

When I looked at them they were neatly dressed and some could not even recognise me because of how I smelt and my appearance as a street child.

I left the school and promised myself that all is well and tomorrow is a better day. I found another boy almost my age and he informed me that some soldiers were recruiting child soldiers and we should go and try since they would give us food and a decent place to sleep. 

I agreed - so we went and we were recruited. We passed and they trained us how to us the different guns and explosive devices.

I was a child soldier for two and a half year. But I could not take the life any more because every time I fired the gun I could hear a voice inside me telling me to stop - that this is not the right thing to do.

One morning, as the troops were planning to attack, I managed to sneak out of our camp and I ran.

It’s been a year since I changed my life and I would like to ask all the child soldiers to stop destroying their lives out there.

My life is changed. Although my country is still not in good terms I know one day all will be well.

I have no idea if my parents and brother were killed. I have tried looking for them but I have never found them.

If they are alive I hope Allah is taking good care of them as he did for me.

I hope that the education system in Somalia improves and peace prevail so that I can finish my education and be part of change in my country.

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