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Video: The children of Darfur

By Ann Curry
NBC News
updated 11/16/2006 5:45:19 PM ET 2006-11-16T22:45:19

From a distance, Khamis and his friends look like any schoolboys, but when you look closer you find a stolen childhood. His mother is dead, his father is lost. At 13, he is an orphan, and home is a refugee camp.

Three years ago, he told us, the Arab militia, the Janjaweed, swept in on horseback. Alone, Khamis stood up to the armed soldiers to protect his family's precious cows.

"[The] soldier turned around, he called me a slave, and hit my face with a stick," he says.

On his forehead, a permanent reminder of the attack.

What kind of trauma are relief workers seeing among the children?

"I think a lot of children have suffered from nightmares and memories of what they have seen in Darfur," says Laura Perez with UNICEF.

There are 14,000 children, refugees from Darfur, at this camp in Goz Beida. We asked some of them to draw their memories of home before and after the Janjaweed came.

In notebook after notebook, they drew brightly colored flowers, trees and houses. Then, their images turned stark, black and white, of bombs, rifles and dead bodies.

Khamis drew the Janjaweed attacking a little boy. The picture shows the Arab men with machine guns, firing at people.

Does he have nightmares?

"They come," he says.

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The camp school is Khamis' refuge. Aid workers say just simply going to school helps the children feel normal.

But even here, children are vulnerable to Janjaweed soldiers, who stalk the area, hoping to kidnap and recruit boys like Khamis.

In the past few weeks, villages near this camp have been attacked and burned.

"I am scared because I ran away from death, and to be killed here makes me scared," says Khamis.

Like all the children here, Khamis just longs to go home. They sing, "I miss sitting in the shadow of my village. I miss playing with you."

But as the fighting rages closer, there is no telling when Khamis and his friends can go home.

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