Thursday, January 22, 2009

Author and Activist visits Ohio University

by Tony Rawlings

Author and former child soldier Ishmael Beah visited Ohio University as part of the Kennedy Lecture Series to discuss his life in Sierra Leone during years of civil war, as depicted in his book “Long Way Gone”. Beah shared memories both good and bad about the years he spent in Africa before coming to America as a teenager. Some people in the audience had read his novel, some had not, but all were familiar with his story and he was greeted with resounding applause as he took the stage.

Author Ishmael Beah's warm reception at Ohio University

Telling His Story
In Africa, the oral tradition is the way that stories are told and information is passed along from person to person. Ishmael embraced this tradition as he told the story of his life. His story is one that few could fully comprehend.

He spoke of seeing children murdered for crying after witnessing the murder of their parents. He spoke of coming to terms with life as a soldier and being unable to mourn because it would put his own survival in jeopardy. He spoke of the drugs that older soldiers would give to the younger ones to help them cope with the killing that they both witnessed and took part in. He spoke of being unable to sleep at night out of fear of being killed and out of the fear of the images that would haunt his dreams. The other soldiers became his family. Parental love and compassion were replaced by respect and honor that was earned by committing brutal acts of violence against other factions of rebels. Day to day, the hope that tomorrow would be different, that the civil wars would end, kept him going.

Sending a Message
Today, Beah lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is currently on a tour, with speaking engagements across the country to tell his story and help raise awareness about the use of child soldiers, not only in Africa, but also around the world. He does the tours, interviews and appearances to do what he can to put an end to the use of children as soldiers. About his efforts he said, “It is to continue to remind people that this is still going on. Not only in Sierra Leone currently, but also in other parts of the world. The use of children is not an African issue, it’s a global problem.”

Beah hopes that his story and his experiences will give a face to this issue and inspire others to do what they can on a personal level to help end this cruel and destructive practice.

Ishmael Beah speaks about his motivation for writing "Long Way Gone"

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