Ishmael Baeh, human rights advocate, and author of “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier,” spoke to JWU students about his experiences as a former child soldier in Sierra Leone, and his eventual escape from the violence.
The event, held in Xavier Auditorium, was sponsored by the John Hazen White School of Arts and Sciences Cultural Life Committee.Now 26, Baeh joined the Sierra Leone army at the age of 12. He was conscripted after his parents and brothers were killed during a brutal civil war. Alongside fellow unwilling child soldiers, he was forced to take drugs to control his emotions, making him easier to command by his superior officers.
In turn, Beah became further removed from the concept of family, and began to accept his role as a young pawn in a very grown up war.
“Adults found ways to draw children into this war in a very calculated way,” he told students of the experience.
Beah followed with a detailed description of his escape from the warzone. Despite the controlling efforts of his commanders, he was removed from the army by UNICEF and placed in a home in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
He later moved to New York City, where he completed high school. He attended Oberlin College in Ohio.
In college, Beah began working as an advocate to bring attention to the plight of child soldiers and children affected by war. During this time, he began drafting “A Long Way Gone,” his harrowing story of separation, violence and a lost childhood.
He has since spoken on behalf of UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, and at the United Nations. He is also a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Committee.
Baeh ended the presentation by addressing the true effects of war, and the redemption that follows.
“In war, you dehumanize others. What no one tells you is that you dehumanize yourself,” he said. “All of us have the capacity to lose our humanity, and to regain it.”