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Fighters, not Soldiers

In a slum of Goma, Eastern Congo, a former child soldier teaches boxing to kids, to keep them from the lures of armed groups.

Every morning at 6 a.m., Kibomango waits for his pupils in front of the Volcanoes stadium, with “worn gloves, boxing shoes made in China and a motorcycle jacket on the back.” His left eye was blown by a piece of shrapnel when he was a Kadogo, a child soldier. Best known for being the DRC boxing champion of 2008, his life purpose became creating an alternative model for kids who otherwise could easily end up having his same childhood.

Kibomango’s training is open to anyone, aspiring boxers just need to be there on time. Latecomers run five laps of the field, and they do it without flinching.

“People who don’t train and just watch, also profit from my advice.They are listening, and maybe tomorrow they’ll come and sweat with us”.

At the age of 14, Kibomango enlisted voluntarily in the rebellion of Laurent Désiré Kabila, Congolese revolutionary leader and politician. For the next 11 years he went from a rebel group to the next, until a piece of shrapnel took away his left eye.

“Coming to training gives children a little confidence, even if they leave with their belly as empty as when they started it. They are often orphans, and armed groups’ recruiters know how to bait them with promises.”

Eritier Shabanyere, 20, was 16 years old when he was recruited from the street to join an armed group. “I’ve seen kids get murdered because they demanded more food”, he says. After 3 months he escaped and started teaching boxing with Kibomango.

“Recruiters promise you money, women and eternal recognition. But the only things you find in the forest are death, hunger and hell. I know, I lived it,” he shared with photographer William Dupuy, who set out to follow his work as a boxing teacher. “Our country abandons its children, not me. I come from the street as well, but everyone knows me as the champion of champions. For the kids, it gives them hope of being something other than a “shégué, a street child.”

A bag, two pairs of gloves and two well-worn helmets are the only good of the club.

Training is also an opportunity to talk to the children. “In an armed group, you’re asked to drink the blood of your victims. Do you want to do that? Live in the jungle? Be exposed to the attacks of wild animals? Never take up arms.”

Kibomango teaches boxing to young women. Apart from a few odds and ends in mechanics, Kibomango has no income.

“Once in the forest, children are drugged and armed to enlarge the ranks of a rebellion that serves only the interests of war leaders.”

After a fire in Kibomango’s district, the municipality took the opportunity to raze all the houses built illegally. “When they came to kick me out of my house, I said I would kill whoever tried to do it. They know me, they know it’s true. But they will come back, and it may be them who end up killing me.”

Follow William Dupuy’s work on his website.

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