January 23, 2008

Vol. 23 , No. 05   


View Entire Issue (Vol. 23 , No. 05)


A Long Way Gone: A Story of Hope and Redemption
ISHMAEL BEAH
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2008

Ishmael Beah was born in Sierra Leone on November 23, 1980. When he was 11, Ishmael’s life, along with the lives of millions of other Sierra Leoneans, was derailed by the outbreak of a brutal civil war. After his parents and two brothers were killed, Ishmael was recruited to fight as a child soldier. He was 13. He fought for more than two years before he was removed from the army by UNICEF and placed in a rehabilitation home in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. After completing rehabilitation in late 1996, Ishmael won a competition to attend a conference at the United Nations to talk about the devastating effects of war on children in his country. It was there that he met his new mother, Laura Simms, a professional storyteller who lives in New York. Ishmael returned to Sierra Leone and continued speaking about his experiences to help bring international attention to the issue of child soldiering and war affected children.

In 1998 Ishmael came to live with his American family in New York City. He completed high school at the United Nations International School, and subsequently went on to Oberlin College in Ohio. Throughout his high school and undergraduate education, Ishmael continued his advocacy work to bring attention to the plight of child soldiers and children affected by war around the world, speaking on numerous occasions on behalf of UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, United Nations Secretary General’s Office for Children and Armed Conflict, at the United Nations General Assembly. He is a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Committee and his visit to CMC is cosponsored by the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights and the Athenaeum.

In A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (2007), Beah, now 26 years old, tells a riveting story. At the age of 12, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By 13, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts. Eventually released by the army and sent to a UNICEF rehabilitation center, he struggled to regain his humanity and to reenter the world of civilians, who viewed him with fear and suspicion. This is, at last, a story of redemption and hope.