By Jeanna Packard
At age 13, Ishmael Beah was recruited as a child soldier in Sierra Leone’s civil war. After several years of fighting, he escaped and later moved to the U.S., where he graduated from college, wrote a book about his experiences and now shares his story of hope and redemption around the world.
The author and activist spoke Wednesday in a Kennedy Lecture Series event at Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium. Before his talk, however, he met with students enrolled in Ohio University’s scholars programs.
Here are some of the topics covered during that informal meeting.
Has Beah been in contact with other survivors or former child soldiers?
"I go back quite a lot and I work for the organizations that give scholarships and help kids who weren't as fortunate as I was," Beah said. “I also go back home because it's my home, regardless of what happened there."
Because of his book, “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier," he has been able to get in touch with some of his friends from Sierra Leon, including two childhood friends, who now live in Australia and Canada.
What happened to Beah’s family?
Most of his immediate family was killed during the war, which began in 1991, although some extended members still live in Sierra Leone, Beah said. Today, he uses his cell phone to stay in touch with his relations in Africa.
Does he struggle with flashbacks?
In his book, Beah wrote that he 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. Forgetting the past is impossible, Beah said Wednesday. But therapy has helped him come to terms with flashbacks from the war and triggers, such as fireworks, that can reignite old fears.
How can students in Ohio due to raise awareness for this cause or other causes?
"Information is power and the more you learn about causes you're interested in then you can actually find ways to become active," Beah said.
Beah shared a story about a group of students in Denver who decided to learn about Sierra Leone and find ways to help the country. They discovered a school that had been ravaged by war and started a partnership to repair the devastation and ensure children can continue to receive an education.
"I always stress learning about [the cause] … because I don't want people to give blind charity where [they] give $20 and feel better. I want you to be vested in where that money is going," Beah said.
At the end of the meeting Beah signed books and mingled with attendees.
"He was inspirational," said Megan Weber, a graduate student, who attended the discussion and read Beah's book.