Nyatuel Chuol Thok Loklok was born in 1985 during the Second Sudanese Civil War. He was eleven years old when he became a child soldier. Now, he is a peacekeeper.

I was born in Nasir in 1985. At that time, South Sudan didn’t exist yet, but the south of Sudan was fighting the north. My father fought as a soldier. He was killed in 1989 in Nasir. Every day and night I heard gun shots. It was a warzone. We didn’t have access to school as children, because there was no school.

As small children, we played with guns. So I adopted that as my way of life. By the time I was eleven, I had a militaristic mindset. I knew even then that if you didn’t have a gun, someone could come and take your wife away. If you didn’t have a gun, someone could take your sister away. If you didn’t have a gun, someone could take your daughter away. Everyone had a gun.

So I joined the military. There were no other options. School was nonexistent and the fighting was everywhere. My mother was a single mother and women didn’t have many resources. My father could have taken care of us had he been alive, but he wasn’t. I believed I would be less of a burden to my mother if I joined the military.

People died easily. I saw things I cannot easily mention. Some soldiers committed suicide, some killed their wives and children from the trauma. It was a very bad situation. The community also behaved like soldiers since there was no government in place. Everyone was a soldier because everyone had a gun. If you wanted to kill someone, you could kill them. There was no such thing as human rights.

Peace came in 2005 when Sudan signed a peace deal that paved the way for South Sudan’s independence in 2011. I’d been a soldier all those years. At that point, our troop joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. I wanted to go to school now, but was convinced by my uncle to go back to the field for military training first. I was trained for military intelligence and then deployed. I worked in Khartuom and went to school at the same time.

I moved back to South Sudan in 2010 and decided to move to Juba, the capital, in 2011. From there, I decided to not join the military because I wasn’t fond of it anymore. I’d been on the front line and I’d been in all the departments of the military. I wasn’t too keen on being part of the military again.

Instead, I started a small business with a loan from one of my uncles. I ran it for two years until war broke out again in 2013. My business was in jeopardy and so was I.

However, because I wasn’t a soldier anymore and didn’t have any weapons, I went to the Protection of Civilians site, where displaced South Sudanese people were sheltered. That’s where I found out about Nonviolent Peaceforce.

Now I work with Nonviolent Peaceforce. I’m no longer a businessman. I became a humanitarian worker. I went from being in the military, to business, to the humanitarian field. I can make the decisions I make now because I’ve gained a lot of knowledge over time. I’m capable of doing what I decide to do.

I’ve forgiven myself. I had to forgive myself or else I couldn’t get rid of my militaristic mindset.

Having a militaristic mindset is torturous. I left it because I saw many bad things. I had to forgive myself before I could forgive anyone else. So, I forgave myself and left the fighting. Now, I’m glad to be influential in the lives of young people, especially the ones who want to join the military. I tell them that the conflict will end, that people will come together again.

Young people, especially children, don’t realize that when people fight, there is an end to the fighting. Especially since South Sudan was in war for 22 years. I was born within those years, joined the military and saw peace. So I know this current conflict will end. And the groups who are fighting now will come together. One day they will stay in a room together. It’s just a matter of time. They will forgive each other as well.