Story

Peter and Jion: From Fighters to Friends

Image by Andre Lambertson. Liberia, 2007.

During the war Peter and Jion fought in opposing rebel groups — Peter for the NPFL and Jion for the LUR. Peter lost his right arm and Jion his left leg. Now they support each other on the streets of Monrovia, where they sleep, ekeing out a living hustling for $2 a day.

During the war things were easy for the boys. Their commanders told them what to do and who to kill. Now at 26 and 16 both boys lost their parents and they are living on their own — just trying to get by.

Even though he killed many people, Jion thinks he should be considered a hero for fighting for his country. He doesn't understand why if he forgives the people that killed his family, the rest of the country can't forgive him. He wants to move to Europe or somewhere else where he can start over. Peter, on the other hand, doesn't see why he has to goanywhere. If he wants to change his life, he thinks, he should just go to school.

Jion has a fourth grade education — and can't spell his name. On his first try he said his name was "JSALANE." When I told him that didn't spell Jion he just looked at me confused. He says he's 16, but his children are 22 and 21. After a while, I just accept the fact that there are some things I'll never know.

When we are finished interviewing Peter and Jion they ask us for money. We explain that we can't give them money, we can just buy them food. That's when Peter turned to us and said, "We fought in the war because we didn't have money. We're not going to do this for nothing."

Peter and Jion are just two of thousands of ex-combatants who fought in the war, but never went through the formal demobilization process. For those who were never demobilized, counseling, school, and jobs are often out of reach. Andre and I went to speak to Cecelia Abraham at the United Nations High Commission of Refugees about ex-combatants like Peter and Jion who are falling through the cracks. Although Cecelia seemed sensitive to their plight she said that former fighters were not under the purview of UNHCR. If I wanted to talk about work with the ex-combatants, she said, I'd have to speak to the National Commission on Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Rehabilitation or one of the other agencies who deal with former fighters. Although there are agencies set up to help these youth, lack of money, limited resources and bureaucracy prevent help from reaching them.