Michel Chikwanine was 5 years old when rebel militiamen kidnapped him from a soccer field near his school in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He had decided to stay out to play rather than follow his father's instructions to head straight home. As the fighters approached his group of friends, he was more concerned about having disobeyed his dad than about what the men would do.
Chikwanine's life would quickly and irreconcilably change, however, as the militia abducted the boys and took them to its camp. There, a fighter drugged him with a mix of cocaine and gunpowder. Chikwanine was blindfolded and made to hold a gun, then told to shoot it.
"I was forced literally to kill my best friend as an initiation process into the army," Chikwanine told The WorldPost. "That’s something I will never forget, and I still fight with every single day."
Chikwanine spent weeks as a child soldier with the group before he managed to escape and find his way back home through the help of townspeople who knew his family. He later escaped the conflict to a displaced persons camp in northern Uganda, and in 2004 made it to Canada as a refugee with his mother and younger sister.
Now 27, Chikwanine has written about his experiences in a graphic novel released this month that's aimed, perhaps counterintuitively, at 10- to 14-year-olds.
Along with co-author Jessica Dee Humphreys and illustrator Claudia Davila, Chikwanine has created Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War, a work he hopes will give young people greater context and awareness of the use of children in war.