When I was 15, my dream was to graduate high school and study computer science. This dream came to an abrupt halt the day a group of armed forces stormed my high school and ordered all the boys to follow them.
We were led to a military training camp where for three years, we were taught how to use weapons, how to fight, how to kill. We became child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It was not my ambition to become a child soldier but fate brought me there. For three years, I had no choice but to put my dreams on hold. When I was 18, members of a Catholic church helped extricate me from the army. I went on to receive my high school diploma and a university degree in computer science. I achieved my dream. But that was not enough.
I was able to escape a war of bloodshed thanks to the help of some good-hearted people. But what about the other war, the one still quietly unleashing its deadly grip on 80 percent of the DRC population? A peace treaty was signed in 2003, but thousands continue to die daily. Displaced, malnourished individuals roam hungry because they have nothing to eat. Preventable deaths occur because of lack of access to health care. I may have achieved my initial goal of completing my education but how can I say that my goals have been reached when my fellow Congolese are quietly dying around me?
About 85 percent of people in the Congo live in rural areas. Most depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for income. Agriculture plays a key role in the country’s economic growth and poverty reduction efforts. However, about 80 percent of farmers lack the skills and agriculture information that could improve their productivity. For instance, it takes farmers an average of 10 extra days to get their goods to market, affecting their prices and reducing their incomes by 47%.
I developed Mobile Agribusiness, a free web and mobile app available in 4 national languages, to resolve this. We connect farmers to critical agriculture and market information (weather, crop pricing etc). By equipping them with the right educational tools, I believe we can finally enhance productivity, increase incomes, and empower a new generation of financially independent farmers.
There are certainly obstacles. It is not easy to get funding in the Congo. There is also a skill deficit.
But change is possible. One must at least try. There will always be obstacles; some may be overcome, some may not. But the only way you will know is to try.
Being a child soldier taught me an important lesson. I learned that a simple wish can make many things happen in life. Against my wishes, I was brought to a training camp and taught to use weapons I didn’t want to use. All the while my real wish – to fight the injustice in poverty – grew stronger. When you have an ambition to do something, nothing can stop you.