With UNICEF field-workers as our guides, we traveled through the city and some of the countryside, learning how UNICEF was helping the young victims of that war. One of the main issues was reuniting the former child soldiers with their parents. Many of these children had been kidnapped during the night, often with their villages burned and families tortured. Stolen as young as fourteen, twelve, and even nine, they had often been given drugs by the warlords who had induced them to kill—and kill horrifically.

When the war finally ended, UNICEF was there to reunite these children with their parents or a family member who had survived the war, as well as to provide counseling for the traumatized youths, and eventually job training. It was a daunting task. Imagine a boy stolen from his parents at age nine, drugged, and made to kill. Now the war is over, he's sixteen, and by his culture's standards, he's a full grown man. He's lived through too much to go back to school, but he's not trained for any kind of productive work. Nor does he have any idea how to live within a family, a community, and a country attempting peace; all he knows is traveling through a war- torn city or a devastated countryside, scavenging for food with his fellow soldiers, also young boys, and committing the atrocities he's been trained to undertake. How does a young man like this return to any kind of normal life?

UNICEF had a three-part program: reunification with families, counseling, and job training. It seems miraculous that it could be successful—but in many, many cases, it was.

Both Laurence and I were shaken by what we saw, and he emerged from that first trip fully committed to UNICEF and its extraordinary work. He helped promote the agency's goal of eradicating the practice of using child soldiers as well as its three-part mission to help the children. Sadly, UNICEF's work has had to continue in Africa today, where the problem is most critical in countries such as Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, Chad, Sudan, Uganda, and Congo. Children are also used as soldiers in various south Asian countries and in parts of Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East, in countries such as Sri Lanka, Colombia, Russia, Afghanistan, and other nations. And Laurence Fishburne continues to be a staunch supporter of former child soldiers and is also the chairperson of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF's campaign against HIV/AIDS.

Excerpted from If It Takes a Village, Build One: How I Found Meaning Through a Life of Service and 100+ Ways You Can Too by Malaak Compton-Rock, foreword by Marian Wright Edelman. Copyright © 2010 by Broadway Books. Reprinted by permission of Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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