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Men on the Move: Ishmael Beah

Ishmael Beah is the personification of resilience and hope. Stories like his have been told to the world, tainted with perspective, biases and emotion. Rarely are they told in their purest form. Ishmael Beah is able to give readers this perspective in his novel A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of A Boy Soldier.

Beah was born on November 23, 1980 in Sierra Leone. In 1991 the country erupted in a vicious civil war that caused the displacement, death and seemingly irreparable damage of the greater part of the population. Beah’s childhood was permanently disrupted when the Revolutionary United Front invaded his hometown, Mogobwemo. This uprising forced Beah to flee from his village. After the separation from his family, he spent months travelling with a group of other displaced boys until they were finally caught and forced to become child shoulders. Beah fought in the military for three to four years. As a 12-year-old child, he was witnessing countless atrocities that would permanently scar the average adult. Beah was forced to commit violent acts and murders under the influence of marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine and brainwashing from his superiors. With the help of UNICEF, Beah was able to escape from Freetown and found his way to New York City where he attended United Nations International School. Afterwards, he enrolled at Oberlin College and graduated with a degree in political science.

During an interview in 2007, Beah revealed that returning to civilized society was more difficult for him then being a child soldier. Being in the army at such a tender age dehumanized him, making the transition into society a challenging one. Childhood is the most impressionable time in a person’s lifespan. The experiences and lessons learned during this time set the precedent for the person’s morals and future life choices. Plummeting into such volatile and traumatic circumstances as a child can ruin a person’s sense of humanity and affect their social relationships.

Though Beah suffered greatly from these intrapersonal hindrances after his release, he was able to channel his energy positively, share his story with the world and advocate for child soldiers. Aside from writing a novel Beah established the Ishmael Beah Foundation. It is an organization dedicated to helping children affected by war reintegrate into society and improve their horizons. It aims to provide educational and vocational options for the children to aid them in living conflict free lives. The foundation offers scholarships, grants, and educational facilities that promote healthy lifestyle practices. During the 2010/2011 academic year, the foundation supported approximately 50 students at different educational and vocational levels.

In his memoir Ishmael Beah wrote “…children have the resilience to outlive their sufferings, if given a chance.” he is making it his life to give children a chance. Beah has shown extraordinary reliance and leadership skills. He was able to use an atrocious experience as a platform to advocate against child cruelty and enslavement. He channeled what could have been negative aggression into a constructive movement that is ensuring healthy lifestyles for many war-effected children.

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-Joy Otibu


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