There are an estimated 300,000 child soldiers in the rogue military and other armed groups of the world. This tragic truth has gradually gained exposure, stirring hearts and hands to repair this injustice. However, not many realize one-third of these young soldiers reside in Southeast Asia, particularly in Burma, where a shame-based society and government secrecy often overshadow their existence. Project: AK-47 is a grassroots awareness organization dedicated to the restoration of these children.
“It is a really horrific problem,” says Jeremy Anderson, Communications Director for Project: AK-47. “The International Labor Organization calls it one of the cruelest forms of modern slavery. It’s forced servitude, it’s sexual exploitation, it’s physical abuse, it’s subjection to war.”
Project: AK-47 has only been operating in the United States for a year and a half, but it promotes and funds projects that have been directly working in Southeast Asia since 1994. The staff not only negotiate to demobilize child soldiers but provide everything they’ll need for a new life: shelter, food, clothing, trauma counseling, mentorship, education and, most of all, love. Programs even offer agricultural training to give youth the skills needed for employment in the country’s vital green tea farming industry. The staff is devoted to these youth until they become functioning adults, at which point they are facilitated into university, agriculture or other employment.
“We are taking as many kids as we can, investing in their lives and reinserting them back into their own society, rather than taking them out,” Anderson. He adds that the opportunities now available to these kids could help them become government or community leaders, and that perhaps they’ll play an even bigger role in the eventual eradication of the system that once enslaved them.
One of the main goals of Project: AK-47 is to get people talking with their dog tag campaign. Dog tags are available on the Project: AK-47 website, featuring the name, age, location and rank of a specific child soldier. By purchasing one, the wearer not only identifies with a child but gets an opportunity to share their story. Furthermore, 100 percent of the profits are sent directly to the programs of Project: AK-47.
“We can talk the statistics all day, but people don’t really connect with that,” says Anderson, who wants to get 100,000 people wearing the children’s dog tags.
Project: AK-47 also encourages people to donate to their cause in increments of $7. Why this amount? Just $7—say, the price of a matinee movie ticket—could give a child a week’s worth of food and education, as well as the initial clothing and health supplies needed upon rescue. Project: AK-47 ensures this small sum could mean the difference between “a killer for seven years or a kid for seven dollars.”
A diplomatic presence and the successful rehabilitation of children in Burma have opened doors for Project: AK-47 in Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Mexico. Currently, they reach about 500 kids through their various programs.
“As an organization, our position really is to serve these areas,” Anderson says. “We are taking a back-door approach to change, instead of just trying to chip away at a problem that will never really go away unless you go to the root causes.”
To learn more, visit Project: AK-47.com.
photo credit: Thierry Falise