27 Oct

Innocent voices

FInVoices_Quad.qxdound this shocking story on the Guardian website a few days ago and was outraged. A hard drive holding testimony from survivors of the civil war in El Salvador was stolen from the Washington office of a human rights organisation. The CIA are in the frame for this despicable act as survivors continue to search for justice more than 20 years after the war.

I recently watched an incredible film called Voces Inocentes about the war’s impact on children. The central character of Chava is an 11-year-old boy who enjoys playing with his friends and loves his mum to bits. Unfortunately when boys in his village turn 12 they are being collected by the government army at school and pushed into the war. His Uncle Beto has become a guerrilla and is fighting for his country. It seems really confusing for a small boy to understand who is right and who is wrong when both sides are exchanging gunfire in his village and endangering everyone’s lives.

Having been through the country and seen villages like this one, I felt even more moved by the terrible things that happened. The war lasted for 12 years. It resulted in the deaths approximately 75,000 people and displaced a million. The film demonises the government forces but ultimately both sides used child soldiers and it is how children are affected that is centre stage.

The attacks are so sudden, you feel genuinely frightened. You really feel like you are under the bed with the children, all holding hands and trying to calm the youngest. When Uncle Beto is there, you feel a bit safer and when he quietly plays the guitar and sings for the family during the gunfire it really makes you cry.

The scene I found most touching and sad is when the boys receive a warning about army recruitment the next day and hide. The soldiers bully their mothers asking where they can find the boys. The camera pans out so you see about 50 boys lying still, scattered across the corrugated iron roofs of the village. It is tragic.

The things that really stick out as strange are the normal activities like the kids playing, eating dinner at the table, moving to a new and hopefully safer house, Chava and his little girlfriend Cristina kissing for the first time. They show that no matter what, children try to find some moments of innocence and light even in the darkest places..

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