In 2009 I spent quite some time with the students and former child soldiers at Friends of Orphans Rehabilitation Centre in Pader, Northern Uganda. I was also lucky to re-unite with many of the youth when I returned to Northern Uganda earlier this year!

The short video clip below is from my first trip, and was taken on my second day at Friends of Orphans, just as I was getting to know the young women and children, who had in their recent pasts served as child soldiers in Joseph Kony‘s LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army).

The video is classic… Enjoy!

Ebony at Friends of Orphans from Ebony Butler on Vimeo.

Although my method is not a common technique used in child soldier rehabilitation and re-integration efforts (in fact I think it may have never been used anywhere in the world before this!) I do know for a fact that it works – and if not kissing, at least being friendly; funny; open and a little bit ‘Ebonesque’!

The students at FRO Uganda opened up to us immediately after the little kiss with Moses, and I do believe this helped in building the strong relationships we had with the students. Getting everyone laughing and happy was a great building block that lead to many of the former abductees, both boys and girls, wanting to become friends and engage in conversation, which then lead to them confiding in and trusting us. This also resulted in the beginning of new and long-lasting friendships, which have stood the test of time…

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The International Criminal Court handed down its first sentence Tuesday, imprisoning for 14 years a Congolese warlord convicted of using child soldiers.

Thomas Lubanga was convicted in March of recruiting and using children in his Union of Congolese Patriots militia, sending them to kill and be killed during fighting in Congo’s eastern Ituri region in 2002-2003.

Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford said the sentence reflected the need to protect children in wartime.

“The vulnerability of children means they need to be afforded particular protection,” he said at the sentencing hearing.

The 51-year-old Lubanga is the first person convicted by the 10-year-old permanent war crimes tribunal.

Rights activists hailed the case as a milestone in efforts to prosecute the widespread use of child soldiers in conflicts around the world.

Prosecutors had asked for a 30-year sentence, but said they would be willing to cut it to 20 years if Lubanga offered a “genuine apology” to victims of his crimes.

Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga awaits his sentence in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, July 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Jerry Lampen, Pool)

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On the 28th of February our crew is heading back to Uganda, and this time we are also hoping to make it to Eastern DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo)- closer to current LRA rebel activity.

We will be spending 5 weeks on the continent, completing the last stages of filming for our feature documentary Child Troopers, which has now been 3 years in the making. This time we are returning with a new all Australian team, together with Bikes 4 Life volunteers from Melbourne, as well as our local crew on the ground in Uganda. We will also be distributing bicycles to remote war-affected communities (see: www.bikes4life.com.au).

One of the our latest additions to the team is one of Australia’s finest cinematographers, Mr Marcus Dineen. Marcus is flying in from Sweden to work with us and shoot some beautiful footage for our film. Very excited to have Marcus working on Child Troopers with us!

Further to that excitement, I am very pleased to announce that Sabina Paisa, associate producer of Child Troopers, will also be traveling with us to Africa at the end of the month! It was a last-minute decision, made possible by one of latest EP’s, Michael Schmidt. We cannot thank Michael enough for being such a great support and huge part of this production!

Keep checking this site as we will post updates as soon as we are on the ground and have access to the internet! But basically, while away we will be working with kids and community groups in the capital city (Kampala), traveling out to slums on the outskirts of the city and getting some projects assessed for future partnerships with Bikes 4 Life… then we will be heading north towards South Sudan, to a place called Pader where we will be working with former child soldiers and victims of the war. Further to that, while in the north, we will be distributing bicycles to people in remote villages and camps, setting up a bike education and vocational training centre at Friends of Orphans in Pader and filming the Bikes  4 Life journey and Child Troopers documentary at the same time!

Our 5 week East and Central African expedition is going to be quite an adventure so make sure you follow us online, via Facebook or Twitter and see what we get up to!

Wish us luck on our journey…. We look forward to sharing our experience with you  and thank you for your support!

If you are in Melbourne, please come down to our farewell event, UGANDA BOUND at the Half Moon in Church Street Brighton on Sunday the 26th of February.

See: www.bikes4life.com.au for more info!

Child Troopers - The Art of Linda Zacks

Forest Whitaker Says He’s Got 3 Projects He Plans To Direct; One Dealing With Uganda’s Child Soldiers | Filmmakers, Film Industry, Film Festivals, Awards & Movie Reviews | indieWIRE.

Whitaker as General Idi Amin in The Last King ...
Forest Whitaker as General Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland

Forest Whitaker has a number of films he plans to direct, one of particular interest is ‘Better Angel’s’. Better Angels is a film close to Whitaker’s heart and focuses on the child soldiers of Northern Uganda. In 2007 Whitaker won an academy award for his performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the 2006 film The Last King of Scotland.

Pre-production for his film is expected to begin in April of this year, and Child Troopers director Ebony Butler, is hoping to be involved with the making of the film.

Better Angels, although a fiction film, has many similarities with our documentary Child Troopers. Both have common themes based on events and situations that arose from the LRA conflict, that has seen over 30,000 children abducted and forced to become child soldiers.

It will be interesting to see how Better Angels will portray the war, as recent films and documentaries that center on the LRA and the topical issue of child soldiers have been rather skewed and few, if any, have gone deep enough to find the true causes and possible solutions to the ongoing conflict.

WOW what an amazing day we have had!

With many thanks to all involved, and special thanks to Visa Global for the shipping and management, Ex-Pat Deli for the container, Nick & co for the Graffiti and art, John Wells & co at Independent Color for the stickers (logo’s) and Bunnings Port Melbourne for the new equipment…!

Our awesome graffiti artists started yesterday at Visa in Yarraville, and spent the whole day painting the container, which when in Africa will become a bike workshop for former child soldiers.

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It is with pleasure and great excitement that I announce Bikes 4 Life’s newest sponsor, Visa Global Logistics.

Visa Global came on board with Bikes 4 Life after their marketing manager, Joe Cetin, saw the segment on The Project on Channel 10 just a few weeks ago.

Visa Global Logistics

Australian owned company, Visa Global Logistics is now Bikes 4 Life’s official shipping sponsor, who will oversee the first shipment of bikes to Africa, scheduled to leave Melbourne on the 11th of January 2012.

In February, the Bikes 4 Life and Child Troopers crew will be setting up a Bikes 4 Life Workshop and Vocational Training Program in Uganda, at our partner organization and child soldier rehabilitation center, Friends of Orphans. The 40 foot shipping container donated by Ex-Pat Deli and decked out by ANL, will become the actual workshop in Pader, Northern Uganda at the Friends of Orphans site.

Our container packed and almost ready to go!!

The program is aimed at not only assisting in the rehabilitation and re-integration efforts at FRO, for the hundreds of young traumatized victims and former child soldiers of a brutal civil war, but it is also aimed at giving them an opportunity to learn practical and useful skills that can help in securing employment in the future. Furthermore, Bikes 4 Life aims to provide each person at the center with their own bicycle, so they can visit their families without walking for days, giving them the ability provide for their families when they return home to their villages after rehabilitation, allowing faster and easier access to food, water and access education & medical facilities, giving them a real chance at overcoming the traumas of their past and getting ahead in life- against all the odds.

Alfa and Christine off to visit their families with the bikes we sent them for Easter!

On behalf of the Bikes 4 Life Team and the Child Troopers Crew, thank you Visa Global – for making all of this possible and for helping us to help others….

Merry Christmas!

This photographs below were taken during our last trip to Northern Uganda.

They will be among a number of photographs and memorabilia on auction this Saturday December 17 at ‘A Rockin’ Great Christmas Party’, at the Memo Theatre in St. Kilda.

The event is open to the public and all proceeds on the night will be donated to our Child Soldier Media & Awareness Campaign.

We hope you can make it to the event in support of our work and also to enjoy a Christmas drink with us before we head back to Africa in the new year!

Many thanks, and Merry Christmas to all. PEACE!

Child of God
Kids of the Camps
Sweet Child O' Mine
Smiling Through The Sorrow

Follow us us on facebook at: www.facebook.com/childtroopers or check out our Bikes 4 Life project at www.bikes4life.com.au

For event details see: https://www.facebook.com/events/105945526186474/

To view or purchase a photograph from our Ugandan or Cambodian Selection please e-mail ebony@atlanticstarproductions.com.

I had the pleasure of meeting Emmanuel Jal when he was touring in Melbourne just last month. We spent a few days together and he is an amazing person with a most horrific story that not many could ever comprehend. Emmanuel was recruited as a child soldier in South Sudan when he was only 7. For such a scarred and traumatized human being he has come through the darkness of his past and has become a ray of sunshine, with success, happiness… and a message of hope, promoting peace worldwide through his music. One night we rapped together at his apartment. He was trying to help me write a rap song for my charity Bikes 4 Life. We had a lot of fun!

Here’s a photo of Emmanuel, Silva, Blair Stafford and myself at a charity event in Melbourne for Miss World Australia. We had a great time in Melbourne and I hope our paths cross again one day! Emmanuel is an inspiration. See more info below….
Below is an article from Unicef from an interview with Emmanuel.

Former child soldier Emmanuel Jal is now a hip hop star with a message of peace

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF/2008/Marin
Emmanuel Jal performs during a panel discussion on children affected by conflict at the United Nations headquarters in New York, on 15 July 2008.

By Ticiana Maloney and Elizabeth Njinga

NEW YORK, USA, 25 August 2008 – Over a decade has passed since Sudanese hip hop star Emmanuel Jal was a child soldier. He survived to tell his story and is now an acclaimed international musician with a message of peace.

“Each album of mine always has a theme,” he says. “’War Child‘ is about my story, my experience, what I have seen from the war and what I want to change. I want to make a difference.”

When Emmanuel was seven years old, he was recruited by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. He was one of thousands of children forcibly conscripted by the fighting forces. Many of those children did not survive.

Emmanuel, however, was lucky. When he was 13, he met an aid worker who took him to Kenya, where he was enrolled in school and found his way to a new life. “I was educated,” he recalls. “It happened that I was helped.”

Advocate for peace and reconciliation

For Emmanuel, education was the invitation to expand his identity, not trade it for a new one. “I feel a responsibility. I was once one of them and I know a lot of child soldiers in the same position,” he says.

UNICEF Image
© 2008/Cary Hammond
In his newest album, ‘War Child’, Emmanuel Jal uses hip hop to spread a message of peace and reconciliation.

Emmanuel has a profound understanding of the conditions that led to his becoming a child soldier and he is determined to use his own skills and talent to share his experiences with the world. He uses hip hop to spread a powerful message of peace and reconciliation.

“I survived to tell a story,” he says. “I tell my story through the music. I want to inspire people.”

Worldwide acclaim

Emmanuel’s message has been broadcast on a wide variety of outlets, including CNN and MTV. A documentary about Emmanuel called ‘War Child’ recently won the Cadillac Audience Award at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival. His autobiography is due to be published by St. Martin’s press in 2009.

Today, Emmanuel divides his time between London and Nairobi, but he has not forgotten his native Sudan.

While still living full-time in Kenya, he founded the non-profit organization Gua Africa, which is dedicated to educating children affected by war and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. Its main aim is to build a school in Leer, Southern Sudan, where Emmanuel is from, and which has the highest number of child soldiers in the area.

The word ‘gua’ means ‘peace’ in Nuer, a language of Sudan.

Kyria Abrahams contributed to this story from New York.


Child Troopers is currently in pre-production, with principal photography scheduled to begin next month in the United States of America. Director of Child Troopers, Ebony Butler, will be traveling to Los Angeles next week where she will work with Child Trooper’s U.S Producer, Alec Pedersen (The Cove; Unity). She will then head across to New York and Washington DC to conduct interviews and further research issues related to the film.

Research for the upcoming trip to America will focus on children in conflict & child soldiers, peace & justice, civilian protection & security, aid & development, modern day child slavery & child trafficking.

More information regarding Child Troopers will be released soon so keep checking in for updates!

If there is something you would like to know, or an opinion you would like to voice, please do as we encourage dialogue and promote discussion on all issues!

Please ollow us on Facebook.com/childtrooopers or check out the blog atlanticstarproductions.blogspot.com for information on human trafficking, slavery, human rights, child soldiers and much more!

PEACE, LOVE AND GRATITUDE TO ALL! 

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