By Quadia Muhammad
Ishmael Beah estimates there may be as many as 300,000 child soldiers involved in military conflict. Most of their stories will not be heard; Beah is the exception.
He will relay the experiences that took him from child soldier to author/activist at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 21, in Ohio University's Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium.
The presentation, a part of the Kennedy Lecture Series, is free and open to the public.
Beah's autobiography, aptly titled "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier," is a personal account of his involvement in the Sierra Leone civil war. He tells his story of compulsory participation in the government army, his difficult rehabilitation and his struggle to return to mainstream society.
Beah's life, along with those of thousands of other children, changed drastically at the onset of Sierra Leone's civil war in 1991. At the age of 13, he was recruited to fight for the government army. Although gentle at heart, Beah discovered he was capable of carrying out horrific acts. He fought for three years before being released from service and sent to a UNICEF rehabilitation center.
Beah moved to the United States at 18 and finished his last two years of high school at the United Nations International School in New York City. Now a U.S. citizen and member of Human Rights Watch, he graduated from Oberlin College in 2004 with a bachelor of arts in degree in political science. He has presented before the United Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations and various non-profit organizations.
In addition to his public lecture, Beah will share his experiences in College of Arts and Sciences classes earlier in the day. Prior to his public address, the Office of the President will host a private reception at which students and faculty from various departments, as well as participants in the university's scholars programs, can converse with Beah in a small-group setting.
Professor of Biological Sciences Molly Morris, a member of the Kennedy Lecture Series Committee that invited Beah to speak on campus, said the author/activist can bring to light the atrocities of war that otherwise might be hard for students to comprehend.
"As Americans, how can we respond to the news about wars around the world when most of us have no experience with war? Ishmael is incredibly gifted in his ability to take an audience into the world of war," Morris said. "His experience is also a testament to the ability of individuals to overcome the most dire of circumstances."
The Kennedy Lecture Series is made possible by a contribution from the late Edwin L. and Ruth Kennedy to the university's John C. Baker Fund. Established in 1962, the series' aim is to bring nationally recognized individuals to the campus and the Athens community to lecture and participate in campus activities. A committee with representatives from the faculty, staff, community and student body selects and invites the speakers.