News / Toronto

Former child soldier puts his experiences on the page

Mike Chikwanine hopes his graphic novel Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War can help put an end to the practice.

Michel Chikwanine is launching his graphic novel about experiences as a child soldier next week in Toronto.

Gilbert Ngabo

Michel Chikwanine is launching his graphic novel about experiences as a child soldier next week in Toronto.

One of the earliest memories of Toronto for Michel Chikwanine was the absence of gunshots.

“There was just a sense of peace that I had never felt before,” said Chikwanine, 27, an African Studies undergraduate student at University of Toronto.

“Part of it was also knowing that finally you are fine, you are safe, no one is running after you to kill you anymore.”

Sounds of bullets and bombs had become like “a musical” to him for most of his childhood. Born in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Chikwanine was only five when he and a group of soccer friends were rounded up by militias and forced to become child soldiers. He was forced to kill some of his friends, and endured pain and hardship “beyond imagination.”

A big part of what drives Chikwanine’s work today is the desire to never see any other child forced into military work. His graphic novel Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War will be launched next week at the Toronto Reference Library. Retired General and Senator Romeo Dallaire, who has dedicated his work in putting an end to child soldiers issue, will be in attendance.

Nightmares about what he went through still haunt him, though less than when he was still younger.

“There are times when I go for a week without being able to sleep properly,” said Chikwanine. One of the most painful memories was when, after he had escaped the militia and rejoined his family, the rebels attacked his home and raped his mother and sisters. His father had been kidnapped and tortured for his activism work, and rebels wanted his family to pay the ultimate price – suffering. 

“The slashed my left cheek as a reminder to my dad to stop saying anything, or else they’d continue to hurt my family,” he said, showing a still visible scar on his face, and many more on his arms.

The family eventually fled to neighbouring Uganda, where his father died. A refugee application brought Chikwanine, his mother and one sister to Canada in 2004.

Now, Chikwanine is an ambitious man. He dreams about creating a football/soccer academy in his home country and grow its uniting spirit. He wants to continue studying. He hopes to someday become a diplomat or a rights advocate.

Most importantly, he tells his story with a purpose of letting humanity know there’s a way to help.

“Child soldiers are a result of other things,” he said. “If we tackle poverty and made universal education a priority, we’ll be dealing with child soldier issues the best way.”

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