In 2008, in the midst of a civil war in Eastern Congo, Sean Carasso met five former child soldiers who were being held at a military encampment by the Congolese National Army. They had escaped one conflict only to be caught in another. Carasso founded Falling Whistles after he returned to the United States, finding that people across the world were interested in the conflict, the children involved, and any way they could help.
As Carasso wrote while he was with the boys, the boys had escaped two separate rebel armies, and their treatment at the hands of the National Army was no better. They were considered enemies of the state because of their involvement with the rebel armies, despite none of them being older than 15.
Carasso and his partner contacted the United Nations, asking for their help to rescue the boys. While they waited to hear back, they gave the children clothes and food, and they spoke to each boy individually. “Each had been abducted … Each had been tied up and beaten. Each had been forced to kill” Carasso wrote in his journal.
The boys, because they were too small to hold guns, had been sent to the front lines with nothing more than a whistle.
Carasso wrote:“Their sole duty was to make enough noise to scare the enemy and then to receive – with their bodies – the first round of bullets. Lines of boys fell as nothing more than a temporary barricade.” Being a whistleblower for either army meant one of two things: the boys either feigned death or faced it. Whistles fell from small, dirty hands; no matter which of the previous options they chose.
Of the five boys, one was Rwandan, the others Congolese. When asked if their nationality meant that they were enemies, the boys only laughed and replied, “We are only boys. How can we be enemies?” Sparked by the peaceful outlook the boys held, in spite of their treatment, Carasso shared his journal about the boys with approximately 80 friends and family. Those people then shared it. Then those people shared it until eventually it was forwarded around the world. Strangers began contacting Carasso with a simple question: “What can we do to help?”
Falling Whistles, a campaign for peace in Congo, was born. “Their weapon could be our voice. The whistle is a symbol of protest,” Carasso wrote. From there, Carasso, his friends, family, and complete strangers, began selling whistles out of their pockets, boxes, and backpacks. Going from Austin to New York City, they asked everyone they met to become a whistleblower for peace. They asked people to learn about the conflict of rebel groups like M23, one of the most malicious rebel groups, known for their use of child soldiers.
From those grassroot beginnings 6 years ago, Falling Whistles has grown in their efforts to end the conflict in Congo. Now shipping their whistles out of Sweden, they are able to reach more people internationally than ever before. By spreading their message of peace, they are also spreading awareness that goes beyond just the Congolese war, but towards a peaceful existence, no matter the country.
Although M23’s leader Bosco Ntaganda, a former Congolese National Army commander, announced the end to their armed rebellion in 2013, Congo’s problems are still not over.
There are other rebel groups, corrupt politicians, outstanding human rights abuses, and violence spilling from neighboring countries. M23’s end does not mark an end to conflict, nor the end for Falling Whistles and their campaign for peace.