Q: Where do the children go after they are rescued?
A: Dependent on the region, we either work directly with families or we establish our own children’s homes where we can rehabilitate and raise rescued children. The goal is to allow them to grow up in a loving environment so they can reintegrate into society as peacemakers. In every case, we fight for children to attend school or receive trade skills training. In the eyes of society, education makes them more “valuable” than foot soldiers.
Not only do the children receive love and attention from our staff, but they often have a family of “siblings” who have all come from similar circumstances. In some locations like Mexico, we even have extra-curricular programs like soccer to keep them out of gangs and military training.
Q: Where are the homes? Do the kids come to America?
A: Our homes are located within the countries where the children are rescued. We avoid removing children from their county of origin so as to preserve their heritage and national identity. Our goal is to raise them as future agents of positive change in their own cultures. We also aim to destroy the roots of violence in a region; not simply offer a quick fix. We believe in empowering people, even children, to become agents of change. Our goal is not just to rescue children, but to help reshape regions of conflict into regions of peace.
Q: Who takes care of the children?
A: Teams of committed nationals are trained to work directly with rescued children and serve as parents, counselors, and teachers. In the Philippines and Myanmar, some of our key participants are adults who were once child soldiers themselves. We believe nationally owned and driven programs will promote real change. For safety purposes we strive to “stay under the radar” and do not promote a Western presence.
Q: How long has PROJECT AK-47 been rescuing children?
A: We have been working with children at risk in Southeast Asia since 1994, and we launched our intentional demobilization strategy in 1997. Today, over 1,000 children are positively impacted by our children’s homes, safe houses, schools, and preventative programs annually.
Q: How do you get children out of armed conflict?
A: We are able to diplomatically negotiate with local governments and military leaders to give us children, largely through education incentives. Children are turned over to us voluntarily because of the opportunities we provide for them. The local leadership sees the benefit of our programs; by educating the next generation, we are helping to sustain the future of their nation.
Q: Why do you work mostly in Asia? Why aren’t you working in Africa?
A: As of now, there is a lot of attention and aid reaching child soldiers in Africa. We are one of the only known groups working for the rescue, rehabilitation, and reintegration of child soldiers in Southeast Asia. Estimates on how many child soldiers are in countries like Burma (Myanmar) and the Philippines are low and inaccurate, due to politics and the central government’s lack of on-the-ground data. Our people work in these areas and believe the estimates to be far higher. In countries like Mexico, cartels recruit children from the drug gangs and train them as assassins and hit men. Very little focus is on reshaping these areas towards peace.
Q: Why aren’t other groups working in Asia, if the problem is so huge?
A: Part of the issue is awareness. People simply don’t know. The regions in which we work are extremely dangerous, restricted-access areas, which makes it very difficult for groups like NGO’s to get in and provide effective aid. Our founder’s family has a history of more than 120 years of involvement in these volatile regions, which has given us an open door into these otherwise closed locations.
Q: Are you like Invisible Children?
A: We are similar to Invisible Children in that we both focus on the issue of child soldiers, but our approach and geographic focus are different. Due to the nature of our Asian and Latin American target areas, few to no options exist for former child soldiers in these geographies. Therefore, we have had to create these programs from the ground up and personally maintain them. We are unique in that we actually demobilize child soldiers instead of working primarily with children who are already out of armed conflict.
Also, we are not 100% exclusive to child soldier rescue when there is clear opportunity to protect children. For example, in 2011, we started a home for underaged sex trafficking victims that we were able to transition over to another NGO 6 months later. We cannot ignore the fact that in the world of child soldiering, sex, slavery and drug trafficking are often cruelly intertwined.
Q: Why are you called PROJECT AK-47?
A: We chose our name because the AK-47 represents all of us. It is often dubbed the “people’s gun.” It was the first gun of modern warfare that enabled armed groups to use children in combat, because even a child can learn to shoot an AK. But we believe an AK-47 should never be in the hands of a child.
Q: How much of the money that I give actually gets to the kids?
A: Like you, our staff is incredibly passionate about our work. Therefore, we make every effort to streamline our operations so that the vast majority of every dollar goes toward the rescue, restoration, and education of these children. At least 85% of the money we receive goes directly to services for the children.
Q: How is PROJECT AK-47 related to Just Projects International and Divine Inheritance?
A: PROJECT AK-47 is a daughter organization of Just Projects International and a sister organization of Divine Inheritance. Each one works with unique strategic partners and helps bring our message to new audiences; but at their core, all three are working tirelessly for the same goal - a global culture of justice for children.