As an organisation, we believe it is crucial that the interests of the children and communities we work with come first.
Because of this, we refuse to publish identifiable images of the children involved in our projects. We have a responsibility to help those returning from conflict and sharing their images and stories online could well put them in danger.
Our ongoing projects in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are helping former girl soldiers in the country reintegrate back home. Many of the girls we interviewed suffered severe sexual and physical violence. A majority also endured rejection from communities when returning because of their experiences.
We also know that education is critical both in the prevention of recruitment and in the sustainable reintegration of children back into their societies, which is why we partnered with Education Above All Foundation to develop this short film. Through education, many of the cognitive and psycho-social needs of a former child soldier can be addressed and can be used to support the child long after demobilization has occurred.
DRC's eastern provinces are home to multiple armed groups - including many local self-defence militias who often have their roots in communities. Thousands of boys and girls have joined or been recruited by them during the country's long-running conflict.
The close proximity of some groups to the towns where recruited children come from alongside the community discrimination endured by those returning, means a sensitive approach must be taken.
At the same time, we know it is important that we raise awareness of the country situations where we work and the experiences of these young people. But how to go about this?
Impact of illustration
Working with designers PositiveNegatives, we are using illustration and animation to bring the stories of DRC's returning girls to a wider audience.
Through comic design and animation, the designers help turn personal testimonies into art, which conveys the severity of social and human rights issues, whilst protecting the identities of those involved.
Rodriguez Mungulirwa, a DRC-based artist who produced illustrations for our recently released practical guide, was tasked with turning the girls' accounts into illustrations. In order to show the severity of life for girl soldiers in DRC, we incorporated testimony from several girls we interviewed to create our leading character Justine.
The process started in November. A script was developed and Rodriguez got to work sketching out a storyboard. Over the coming weeks the scenes started to take shape.
Working with a local artist helped us convey the nuances of the issues faced by the girls and ensured cultural tropes were aligned in the design.
Once coloured and completed, the design team began to thread together the individual illustrations and start the animation process.
Carole Kuhuma, a Congolese Nursing student at Kingston University in London, provided the voice of the main character Justine. She tells the story of how Justine left home for an armed group aged 15 and then was rejected when she returned home but also how through education and community support she is beginning to regain her place in society.
Education is a source of hope, a path to community acceptance and recovery for children returning from conflict. Our reintegration projects in DRC have now helped 177 former girl soldiers return to education.
Inspired by the title of our 2017 research report, the animation - What The Girls Say: The Difficult Journey Home - was unveiled in February at the OPAC Turns 18 event we co-hosted at the United Nations in New York.
The video is to be supported by a package of education materials (produced by PositiveNegatives education arm WhyComics?) which will be made available to schools and other institutions over the coming weeks.