Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Whistling Child Soldiers?

I'll put this in the category of weird humanitarian initiatives. I saw this belatedly - the great blog Wronging Rights carried this story about an NGO that sells whistles to raise money to help former child soldiers. (Website here) The connection? Well, they say that, "Captured by Nkunda’s rebel army, the boys not big enough to hold a gun are given merely a whistle and put on the front lines of battle." According to them, thousands of child soldiers are sent to the front line with only these whistles. Celebrities like Selma Hayek, John Stewart, and other apparently support "the whistle-blowers."

I must confess, in my trips to Nkunda's troops I have never heard of this whistle story - it is possible for several dozen, but thousands? Plus, I've never met a militia in the Congo that could find a child who was too small to hold a gun. Nkunda never had much trouble getting enough guns for his troops, it was the Mai-Mai who were less well-equipped.

Plus, the website is full of statements like these: "Nkunda's rebels had gone mad with drugs. He told us it didn't matter who guarded us, the sight of our white skin would enrage them and they would fire." Um....I'm not a big fan of Nkunda's troops, but this is bullshit.

Can anybody in Goma reading this tell me if I'm missing something here? Whistle kids, really? (According to the comments from Goma on Wronging Rights site, it is nonsense and the NGOs founders were deported by Congolese authorities for not having the right paperwork). Apparently, they have raised $80,000 by selling 2,000 whistles and are helping 270 Congolese kids.


texasinafrica said...

I'm not in Goma, but one of my former students is very involved in this, um, "movement." It's just as crazy and made-up as it sounds.

Jason Stearns said...

The funniest thing is that they talk about the "Titu" Congolese military camp s if it's this foreboding place in the middle of nowhere - it's actually the T2 camp, which means it's where the FARDC military intelligence is located, and it's in the middle of Goma, next to the Red Cross offices.

Kate Cronin-Furman said...

Thanks for picking this up! We got a ton of responses to the original post, none of which suggested our initial impression was wrong...

Unknown said...

My first reaction to WR was that the price of whistles must have gotten pretty cheap in N Kivu, for it to make strategic sense for anyone to buy 'thousands' and give to kadogos... Never heard anything similar to this. Sounds like a scam.

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P said...

Jason, Thanks you for this post!

This is very important point and I'd like to bring my insight to this whole Falling Whistle (FW) scam. I have lived in Goma and worked there for 1 year and never- ever- have heard a story about children blowing whistles.
I have met Sean during his 1 week trip to Goma during my stay there (Sean being the founder of FW) and he was the first one to tell me about the use of whistles in the army.
However, if you read Human Rights Watch, UNICEF, MONUC (UN mission in DRC), IRC's reports, all prominent international NGO with +20 years experience in the field, they have NEVER related any stories of this sort.

I think it is important to do research before investing in a non-profit. Plus FW is suspected by many NGO working in Congo of not using the funds towards "former child soldier".

I am asking generous souls to PLEASE research before investing in a fancy "whistles" to wear around the neck. Non-profits like this one can hurt Congo more than anything.

Unknown said...

I don't know that there are thousands of child soldiers who are sent to the front line with only the whistles to be great or not.Anyway, Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic.
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Liv said...

you say that you hadn't heard of such things in your trips there, but if the knowledge of small children dying brutally in war was a well known fact, what would we need organizations like this for? and if you research was a little more in depth, you would see that Faling Whistles isn't just about child soldiers. its about peace in Congo, and about getting more conflict-free technology into our country by way of using coutries that aren't killing people to get the minerals needed for our electronics. instead of being negative and tearing them down, praise the fact that they saw something to be an issue and they took a step forward in solving it, which is something that most people in our world don't have enought guts to do now-a-days.

Anonymous said...

The end doesn't justify the means. There is no need to fabricate preposterous stories in order to raise money. The truth is heart-wrenching enough.
Hopefully FW will be as harmless as it will be short-lived.

Anonymous said...

What a scam! Accoring to their web site, they expect unpaid intern to work a min. of 50 hours a week, and pay $200-$300 a month in shared rent. Quote 'Community living is one of the most rewarding aspects of this internship program, and applicants desiring to participate will be given
first consideration..'. So those suckers who would be willing pay the boss's rent is picked first. Ha Ha. Wow, really!! sign me up!!

sean d carasso said...

Dear Jason -

I wanted to respond to your blog post about Falling Whistles. The story that is on our website was written the evening of one of my first days in Congo. It was written as a blog that reflected the best of my knowledge at the time. I had spent just a few days in the region and was an amateur observer. I then sent the blog to my small Googlegroup and they forwarded it out to many others. Emails came in from around the U.S. asking about the conflict. In many ways we have been trying to answer their questions ever since.

We have never suggested that thousands of children are given these whistles. The boys in T2 told us the story as one example of the atrocities they had seen. We make clear that the journal is the "story of a single day" and the website explains it as a "small window."

We share the Falling Whistles story because it is what finally shook us into paying attention. Sharing it was simply the most honest thing we knew to do. Since the beginning our message has been, "We don't have all the answers, but we know that we're not going to be quiet about this problem. Join us as we pursue peace." The whistle is our symbol of protest as we seek solutions in a region where they are in short supply. My story explained why we cared. The next steps have been about deeper levels of education, regional support and effective advocacy.

When you wrote this blog post in February of 2010, our organization was headquartered in a garage and we were working on desks that we got out of dumpsters. My buddy David & I were making $500 per month and sending at least $3000 per month to our partners in Goma who were working with over 200 war-affected children. Everyone else at Falling Whistles was working for free.

Cognizant of our inexperience, we have constantly sought advice from development and advocacy veterans. Our dialogue can and should lead toward a greater degree of transparency, collaboration, and effectiveness in pursuing solutions to problems as entrenched as the conflict in Congo

In the last year we have invested over $100,000 into Congolese civil society groups to rehabilitate war-affected women and children.

We have also opened an advocacy office in DC that has pulled together a large coalition pressing for the immediate appointment of a Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region to ensure free and fair elections in Congo later this year. In so many ways, we are just getting started.

If you're interested in reading more about our story, how we share it and why we share it, you can find it here

I look forward to a more constructive dialogue moving forward.

- Sean Carasso, Founder of Falling Whistles

Will said...

Correct link is here:

Mr. Studenny said...
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