Boy Soldier Shares Message of Hope

Ishmael Beah

Ishmael Beah, human rights activist and the author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, shared his emotional experiences as a child soldier with members of the SU community during a visit to campus this fall.

His poignant message of hope was a relevant addition to this year’s line-up of university theme events on memory, and an excerpt of his book appeared in this year’s common reading anthology, The Art of Memory.

His memoir describes his childhood in Sierra Leone, where, at 11 years old, he was recruited to fight in the country’s bloody civil war after his parents and two brothers were killed.

Beah said that when he was growing up, a strong emphasis on community and on storytelling was used as a means of remembering.

“Each story has a backbone made up of details and facts,” Beah said. “You need this backbone to keep the story intact.”

But being able to share his story has been difficult for Beah. “I worried that if people didn’t know where Sierra Leone was, then how could they understand the war that was going on,” Beah said.

His agents encouraged him to focus on the violence of the war. Instead, he wrote to “show the strength of the human spirit and to find hope in hopelessness. I wanted to write an intimate account of the war, to put a human face to this experience.”

“There was a Sierra Leone before the war, there was a Sierra Leone during the war, and a Sierra Leone after the war. I wrote my memoir to show how societies fall apart, how traditions are destroyed, but that it’s possible to recover and have another life after this,” Beah said.

This message of hope pervades Beah’s day-to-day life, and students responded to him positively.

“His lecture was inspirational,” said Emma Kong ’12, of Westport, Conn. “It makes you wonder about human resilience. He was able to come back and change who he is. It’s amazing that considering all he’s been through, he still has an optimistic outlook.”


Contributing writers to the People & Places section are Stephanie Beazley ’10, Jenny Ruth Hawbaker ’04 and Julie Buckingham ’09.

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