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Ishmael Beah Visits BC For Lecture On Life Experiences

For The Heights

Published: Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

This past Monday at 7 p.m., Gasson 100 was filled to capacity by students, faculty, and guests waiting to hear a lecture by Ishmael Beah. Beah, best-selling author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, came to Boston College to discuss his experience as a conscripted child soldier during the civil war in Sierra Leone, as well as his current efforts to improve international standards in relation to the use of children in conflict. The event was co-sponsored by the BC Center for Human Rights and International Justice and the BC Arts & Social Responsibility Project.

Beah works for the Human Rights Watch Children's Division Advisory Committee and has used the success of A Long Way Gone to raise awareness about the horrifying plight of child soldiers across the globe. He has spoken at the United Nations and traveled to areas of the globe where children are used in conflict.

Beah began his lecture on Monday night by discussing his early childhood in Sierra Leone. He said that before the war began, he lived a "simple but remarkable life" in a rural village in southwestern Sierra Leone devoid of running water or electricity. Beah chose to read a passage from A Long Way Gone that described the bloody scene when his village was first attacked, after which Beah was forced to flee with a group of children. However, the group was unable to find much help. "Child recruits of the war were forced to kill members of their own community, so when we came into a village everyone closed their doors. People began to distrust the innocence of children."

Next, Beah described his life after his conscription into the army. He explained how the experience perverted the children's senses of normalcy. "With all our families dead, the squadron became the new family, and the new way to show loyalty was violence … There were even times when we had to shoot our own people because stopping to ask could cost you your life."

Eventually, Beah was rescued from the war by UNICEF workers who placed him, along with other former child soldiers, into a rehabilitation center. Beah described the long and difficult process of learning how to function normally again and attempting to stop using violence as the default response in nearly every situation, "Sleeping was also very difficult for me because of my nightmares about the things I had seen as a solider. Sleep was filled with horrible, horrible things."

After being released from the rehabilitation center, Beah went to live with an uncle in the capital city of Freetown, and was selected by chance to be flown to New York to speak to the United Nations about the horrors of the war. While there, he met an American woman who would adopt him a few years later.

Having told most of his life story, Beah then began to discuss the development of international standards to abolish the conscription of child soldiers. Though he praised many efforts by the UN to set international laws and courts in place to fight the practice, he warned that "we sometimes focus too much on things in theory, and forget that these are things happening to human beings."

Finally, when asked about his reasons for writing A Long Way Gone, Beah replied: "I wanted to show people the strength of the human spirit to recover, but to also show that it is not easy or quick; it's a process."

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