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Political Turmoil Creates Bleak Outlook for Young People in Ivory Coast

  • Nico Colombant
  • Tatiana Mossot

Ivory Coast has announced the formation of yet another government of national unity. Once a relatively prosperous West African nation, it has been divided by civil war for over three years despite efforts to include rebel groups in the government.. Fighting has stopped but rebels still control half the country. The country's young people, in particular, face a bleak future.

The town of Man, in western rebel-held Ivory Coast, saw some of the worst fighting in the conflict.

Normal schools no longer operate here but a center was set up by volunteers to give normal children professional training, like sewing and designing clothes.

Some of the students were child soldiers. Many are orphans or they don't know where their parents are.

Classes are mixed. The center opened in 2004 and trains about 90 children. Tables were given by French peacekeepers.

Students also learn how to repair their equipment, which is donated by a Swiss non-governmental organization.

Victor Loua, a former Spanish teacher, started the center with his wife after they no longer had jobs in the shutdown public school system.

He says children who are left to their own devices can become very dangerous. He says a lot of his students used to be fighters during the war, or prostitutes, and often drug addicts. He says it takes about four months to discipline them but that afterward, when they get a sense of responsibility and accomplishment, they can return to society as positive contributors.

"That's why we created the center," he says, "it's very difficult financially, but we are hoping to make our own contribution."

Classes are also given in electrical work -- only boys here. In the class, one of the students sitting in the first row, is Serge, a former child soldier.

He says now he wants to become an electrician. He says it will be a much better occupation than being at war.

During the fighting, when he was 16, he said he killed a father and his children. Now that the fighting is over, rebels let him go.

Classes are also given in car repair and carpentry. Some students are as young as nine.

The center is always open, and for many, it's a refuge away from gun-toting rebels in the city.

But Serge explains there are still problems at the center between those who were in the war and those who weren't.

Some of the former child soldiers have threatened the center's director, saying they would kill him, after they were caught and punished for stealing sugar from the lunchroom cafeteria.

A little discipline though seems better than the idleness that afflicts the children in Man. It's the only such center in a city of about 50,000. Most other children are just left to themselves.