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Former Liberian Girl Soldier Struggles to Recover from Trauma of War


Later this month, Liberia will inaugurate Africa's first elected female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Her task will be to help rebuild her war-shattered nation. She says she will also help emancipate women and girls who have faced years of abuse. VOA's Nico Colombant profiles one of these young women who needs help, former child soldier, Beauty Kanane.

Beauty, a lanky 17-year-old girl, is using the last of her disarmament money to buy shoes at a market in Monrovia.

She remembers how it was not too far from here, on a soccer field, at the age of 13, that she was abducted. Her kidnappers were rebel soldiers who forced her to join their cause and liberate Liberia from the violent, corrupt rule of former President Charles Taylor.

She was taken to a rebel base in northern Lofa county and inserted into a battalion of AK-47-toting lady killers, led by the infamous female teenage rebel leader known as Black Diamond.

"Me and my friends when we go on the football field, the people catch us and go in the car and take us to Lofa county," she recalled. "That is how I joined the people, that is how I joined at the time of Black Diamond, that is how I met Black Diamond and start fighting."

Beauty says many girls were raped by rebel leaders, but she says Black Diamond protected her.

She returned to Monrovia during battles known here as World War I, II and III. She says her mother died of a gunfire-induced heart attack. Her father and sisters fled to neighboring countries.

After the war ended, Beauty joined tens of thousands of other former fighters in disarming, but after an initial payment of $150, she lost her disarmament card. This disqualified her from other payments. She also dropped out of a U.N.-sponsored sewing class for former female fighters.

Beauty wants to go back to a regular school, but has no money.

"I do not have any money to go so I cannot. I have no one to support me. I want someone to help me to go to school. I want to go to school. If I go to school, I want to do something. I want to learn how to know how to read and write. During the war, most of our friends did not know anything," she said.

For now, she is getting free room and board, in a small, dark shack, from the owner of a rickety convenience store selling makeup and soap in a dirt alley of a slum.

She helps him take care of his children, washes their clothes, and cooks.

He says he greeted her with open arms, noticing how nice she was. He gives her what he can, but says he hopes she could get help from the government or the United Nations to get an education.

"She is here, she works with me, very cooperatively. She sometimes helps me wash my children's clothes and what have you. We still want her to go to school and learn better. There is work to be done because she has to learn this is what I have been saying, all. If she learns, the future will be bright for her. She has not gone anywhere with life so she needs to learn. As she goes to school, the future will be bright for her," he said.

Her best friend Patricia, a runaway teenager, also helps out with the shop owner's family. Poor girls like Beauty and Patricia cannot afford to go to the few schools which exist in Monrovia. All of these require a fee. So they just pass time.

"We play, play together, drink Coke, sleep together, do everything together. In the day, we cook, after cooking we go walk around before we come home to sleep," said Beauty.

The two girls also smoke a lot of marijuana, which they get from neighborhood boys.

One of them is now Beauty's boyfriend, 23-year-old Bollah Jr., another former fighter. He comes to visit often. He proudly displays the tee-shirt he got from his disarmament carpentry class.

"This is my tee-shirt for YMCA Trade Department," said Bollah Jr.

Bollah has known war most of his life, and fought against the rebels and Beauty's side.

"For the war, I was in the bush, struggling for Taylor. I was fighting. I was nine years of age when I start holding gun for Taylor. My only side was different and her side was different," he said.

He says it makes no difference anymore, though, whose side they were fighting for. They just want a better future.

Beauty and Bollah say they want children one day, but that first they need to get jobs. And Bollah says he will make sure their children will never go to war.

"They are not going to be combatants because I am going to discipline them. I am going to tell how war is not good. War is bad," he concluded.