@uxilia mission: to save child soldiers

Pratheepa has known what it means to be uprooted from your own village, trained and sent to war, to suffer physically and psychologically, to be injuried, to have your own personality cancelled and then live a rebirth, a new life, a love, a family.

She’s one, but not the only one. There are many child soldiers like her “little girl with the gun” sent to war, unnaturally forced to become adults and thrown into conflicts, torn from their families, trained and sent to the battlefields.

The story of Pratheepa, the young Tamil girl protagonist of the book, is a true story. The book is about the conflict in Sri Lanka, torn by a brutal civil war, in a period from 2000 to the present day.

Pratheepa, a diligent 15 years-old schoolgirl, was at school when the Tamil guerrillas kidnapped her to train her and force her to fight with them. Until then, she had grown up between a hut with mud walls, where she lived with her parents and sister, and the classrooms of the former colonial house, where her lessons were held.

That day at school changed her existence: she was taken away to be forced to become a child with a gun. In the hands of the guerrillas, she has suffered physical and mental torture and, to survive, has become a sniper, a pawn in the game of war, addicted to violence and drugs.

She got wounded in her arm, underwent an operation in the middle of the jungle conducted by a doctor who could do nothing but recompose her bones and muscles using improvisation; she lost the mobility of her arm and could no longer use the rifle.

She went on fighting throwing grenades, using her working hand until the final defeat of the Tamil Tigers, when she got imprisoned with other ex-combatants.

Like Pratheepa there are thousands of other children. In the fate that has befallen on her, however, she’s had the good fortune to meet an Italian doctor, Massimiliano Fanni Canelles, who was on a mission to assess the situation of the children orphaned by the tsunami.

He has discovered an even worse reality: following the ancestral habits now outlawed, still nowadays too many adults rape children, even in the family.

The little ones are cannon fodder without rights or defenses. Thanks to his intervention and that of volunteers of the non-profit organization @uxilia, Pratheepa and many more children will have a second chance.

The author of the book is Susanna De Ciechi, who wrote the story of Pratheepa being inspired by the stories of Massimiliano Fanni Canelles and Laura Boy, respectively chairman and vice chairman of @uxilia Onlus, and other volunteers who’ve had a role in Pratheepa’s life.

The young Tamil protagonist of “The little girl with the gun” is the emblem of the millions of child soldiers now “used” in many conflicts, often stolen to their families to be trained and sent to the battlefields. Massimiliano Fanni Canelles meets these children when he arrives in the Country.

The association was founded in 2003 and has decided to create the brand @auxilia books to give a voice to some of the children it helped save, entrusting the story of their lives to Susanna De Ciechi, writer and ghostwriter from Milan (the proceeds from the sale of the books will be entirely donated to support the activities of the non-profit @uxilia, www.auxiliaitalia.it).

The book will be presented at the Ordine dei Medici of the province of Udine; during this presentation will speak Dr. Nicholas Collini, the surgeon who has operated the girl, and other doctors from the hospital of Udine who have followed the case of Pratheepa.

Paolo Mosanghini