Beah Believes in Life After War

Courtney Garloff, Print Editor

At the age of 13 Ishmael Beah went from living as a normal boy growing up in Sierra Leone to a child solider. On Nov. 11 he shared his story.

The university welcomed The New York Times best-selling author and civil rights advocate to tell his story and talk about his book “A Long Way Gone” as part of Dr. Thomas Boztman’s inauguration.

The event in the Lemmond Theater was the third in the Dr. Midori Yamanouchi lecture series.

“This series bring events to the public eye that are reflective of academics and students,” said Assistant Director of Cultural and Special Events Marie Stolarick.

Beah spoke about growing up in Sierra Leone and how the oral traditions he heard as a kid led to his passion for writing.

“If you couldn’t retell the story, you would be known as the child who didn’t listen,” said Beah.

Beah had a normal life in Sierra Leone, he went to school, played soccer and listened to American hip hop music. Then one day while he was returning home with his older brother and some friends from a neighboring town, his life changed – he was swept into a war.

Beah told a story of a women who was running from the fight- ing with a baby strapped to her back. Once she stopped, she discovered her daughter had been shot and, tragically, it was her child’s death that spared her life.

“I can never forget the pain on this woman’s face,” said Beah “If this could happen to a baby girl,

then no one was safe from this war.”

From that day, Ishmael ran from the war with his brother and friends. Eventually he was sepa- rated from his brother.

“My life was reduced to trying to survive the next minute,” said Beah.

Beah explained that he and the group he was traveling with neared the village where they knew their families were staying. Five minutes before they arrived, the village was destroyed and burned to the ground killing everyone. The group had stopped to helped someone carry bananas and narrowly missed the attack. Their hope of finding their families gone, the group found refuge with a branch of the Sierra Leone military where they were trained to become soldiers.

“It was kill or be killed for him to survive,” said Stolarick.

After almost three years of fighting the rebel forces, Beah was released from the army thanks to UNICEF. He was sent to Free- town, the capital of Sierra Leone, for recovery.

“I had an eight month recovery. Then I went to live with my uncle. He was the only family I had left,” said Beah.

As he tried to reorient himself to a life without violence, Ishmael won the chance to travel to New York City to speak at a United Nations conference. There he met his future adoptive mother. After the conference, he returned to Sierra Leone, but after a few months, he fled the war-torn country.

“When you are running from war, the only thing you are lucky to have is your life,” said Beah.

Beah then got in contact with the woman he had met at the con- ference and went to live with her in New York. Now a college graduate and a best-selling author, he travels the world helping to raise awareness about child soldiers and to help negotiate their release.

“I have to do it because I survived it. I can’t forget I learned to live with it,” said Beah.

Ishmael then explained his rea- sons for writing the book and took questions from the audience.

“My book is a small part of a much bigger story,” said Beah.

To end the lecture Ishmael urged students to be thankful for their education, and reminded them that many people do not have the opportunities that they have.

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