Eng Ndale

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“This is your pen now,” said the soldier, handing a rifle to Ndale Nyengela, who had been kidnapped by an armed group in D.R. Congo at the age of 11. Today, Ndale is 14, free, and a new member of the World’s Children’s Prize jury. “It was an ordinary day. I woke

up at sunrise, washed and put on my school uniform. I picked up my bag with my pen, jotter and ruler, and went out to meet my classmates. There were six of us,


forced to swap his pen for a rifle half walking, half running, because we were a bit late. We took a shortcut on a path through the forest. Suddenly we spotted two armed soldiers among the trees. They shouted for us, and it was too late to run away. ‘Where are you going, boys?’ asked one of the soldiers. He took our schoolbags and emptied them onto the

ground. They also found the money I had with me to pay my school fees and buy beans. It was market day, and my mother had asked me to buy two kilos of brown beans. ‘You understand, boys, that in this country there are not enough soldiers. So now it’s time for you to help out,’ said the other soldier. ‘But we’re on our way to school,’ I said. ‘Listen! If you think you can refuse, we might as well just shoot you right here. Got it?’ he said, smacking our heads with a stick. Ndale was on his way to school when he was kidnapped and forced to become a soldier. After three years he managed to flee. “Now my life has begun again,” he says.

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I was terrified, and I thought God must have forgotten about me. Otherwise why would I have ended up in this mess? I thought about my mother and father and my siblings.” Nightmare was real

“We walked for three days without eating or sleeping. We weren’t allowed to talk to one other. When we walked too slowly they kicked us and shouted all sorts of things. I was so tired. One evening they burned our school uniforms. The whole thing was like a nightmare. But it was real. After three days we reached their camp. When I saw all the soldiers and the terrible huts they lived in, made of branches and sheets of plastic, I thought: ‘This is the end of my life.

“Yes to school, no more military camps”, says one of the placards. With the organisation, BVES Ndale and other freed child soldiers receive help working through their terrible experiences and get to start going to school again. But first they have to take off their uniforms.

I’m a schoolchild, what am I meant to do among all these weapons?’ One of the soldiers gave us uniforms and weapons. ‘This is your pen now,’ he said, passing me a rifle. The uniform was much too big for me, but a woman cut off the sleeves and legs. There were other child soldiers in the camp. They asked me if we had any money. But we didn’t. The next day, we started rifle training. The whole time I was thinking: ‘I don’t want to learn to shoot. I’m a schoolchild!’ Once we knew how to handle our weapons, they said now it was time to learn to kill people. ‘That tree there is a person. Make sure you hit the heart!’”


“I spent three years in that army. One day one of my friends, a grown-up soldier, came to me and said: ‘Let’s run away together! I heard on the radio that UN troops and people from something called BVES are here to help set child soldiers free.’ His plan was to get hold of civilian clothes from one of the travelling salesmen who came to the camp. We would

put the clothes on under our uniforms and run away during the night. We crept out at night. Once we were deep in the forest we threw away our weapons and took off our uniforms. We slept in the forest and then we managed to walk in our civilian clothes, all the way to the place where we had heard child soldiers were being set free. We hurried there. ‘We just fled from an army and you can see that he is a child. Will you take care of him?’ said my friend to a man from BVES, who was standing beside a large white UN car. ‘Don’t be scared, we’ll take care of you,’ the man said to me. I was so happy, and my life began again. Here at BVES, I am calm. Here, I get to go to school. My favourite subjects are music, English, geography and history. When I am finished my studies I want to make music about what it’s like to be in the army, and about the rights of the child, so that everyone understands what rights children have. I want

to stop children from being made to become soldiers. All adults must remember that they have been children. Many adults forget that. But I also want to be able to take care of my parents.”

“Yes to school uniforms” and “No more military uniforms” it says on two of the placards. The child soldiers have taken off their uniforms to burn them.

Ndale represents child soldiers and children in armed conflicts.

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“One morning, after two months in the camp, we woke up to shocked voices: ‘The enemy is coming for revenge! Everyone take up your arms!’ A few days previously, soldiers from our camp had attacked another army and stolen a cow and lots of other things. Now this army was coming to take back the stolen goods. We children had to go first. That was always how it worked. We hid in the forest, near a road. Someone began to shoot. I can’t describe how scared I was. It was my first battle and it was still dark. I couldn’t understand what was happening. People were falling down dead beside me. People were screaming. All the shooting. I felt utterly overwhelmed by feelings of fear. When I tried to hide, the other soldiers shoved me forward and said: ‘If your friend dies, it doesn’t matter. Just step over him! It’s your duty.’ Two of my school friends were killed on the very first day. The fighting continued for twelve days. All that over a cow. When I got back to the camp, I hadn’t slept or eaten for several days. But when I finally got the chance to sleep, I couldn’t, because of all the thoughts and nightmares about what I had been through.”


At war

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