Unreasonable? It’s more like incredible. This May, the Unreasonable Institute in Boulder, Colorado is bringing 25 dynamic young entrepreneurs from around the world to an intensive 10-week business incubator that will give their high-impact social ventures the business acumen to soar. (See yesterday’s blog for more details – or just watch this!)
For 7 days, I’m going to vote (with my $100/day) for my favorite entreprenuers (I love an underdog) and I’m urging you to get in on the action, too. http://unreasonableinstitute.org/finalists/The ideas are all powerfully inspiring, but none more so than Morris Matadi and his Initiative for the Development of Former Child Soldiers in Liberia. (IDEFOCS)
It’s a story almost too painful to tell. From 1989-2003, Liberia was embroiled in a brutal civil war. Warlord Charles Taylor routinely kidnapped children, drugged them, armed them, and trained them to kill. When the war began, Morris was living at home with his family, going to school and living well—but his 11-year old world quickly fell apart. On June 3, 1990 his father, who worked as an engineer for the government, attempted to flee to a country farm. At the rebel checkpoint ominously called “God Bless You Gate” (meaning if you made it through alive, then God was with you), Morris watched as his mother, father, sister and brothers were slaughtered before his eyes, escaping only because his parents refused to identify him. Within a month the destitute orphan was caught by troops and made a child soldier. For seven years, he carried ammunition, killed people as ordered, kept drugs, and witnessed unimaginable atrocities.
In 1997, Charles Taylor was elected president and Morris was selected for VIP training at the executive mansion, serving for 3 years in the president’s motorcade, the army being the only life he knew. But he was feared by former friends and shunned by the community for his deadly actions as a child soldier, and in 2000 he dropped his weapons and moved to Ghana to rebuild his life. Yet his past continued to haunt him in the Buduburam refugee camp where for three years, he had to struggle to survive, surrounded by people whose families he had helped to murder.
The turning point for Morris Matadi came in 2003, when 3,600 former child soldiers were being recruited in the refugee camp to fight in Guinea, Sudan, Ivory Coast and back in Liberia. Those who refused to go began a campaign against the recruitment, called IDEFOCS. For the first time, they received training and support from UN workers, and post-traumatic stress counseling from doctors and psychologists. As they were strengthened, Matadi and others began to reach out to former child soldiers who were also neglected, stigmatized, and struggling to reconcile with their communities and themselves. IDEFOCS set up community agricultural projects to show Liberians the former child soldiers could still contribute to society and be useful citizens. Through these efforts, 450 young men in Ghana and Liberia were rehabilitated and reintegrated back into society.
IDEFOCS in now headquartered in Liberia and implementing de-trauma, rehabilitation and reintegration programs, using 300 acres of farmland to give FCS meaningful labor. Matadi’s long-term goal is to establish a FCS Botanical Reintegration Village with dorms, technical, vocational and academic schools for the boys and girls whose innocence and youth were destroyed in war. With an estimated 30,000 former child soldiers in Liberia, and more than 300,000 child soldiers currently at war in conflicts around the globe, the need for healing these broken spirits has never been more urgent. We can never give back their childhoods, or erase the horror they’ve seen, but we can offer hope. I’m supporting IDEFOCS today.http://unreasonableinstitute.org/finalists/index.php?action=about_pro&proId=188