Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier in Sierra Leone, shared the story of his violent past and his return to normalcy during an assembly April 3. His all-day visit, which included meetings with several classes and an evening talk for CA’s parents and alumnae/i, was part of the Hall Fellowship program, which brings distinguished speakers to campus each year.
Beah was eleven when war seized Sierra Leone. By thirteen, he had lost his immediate family—his mother, father, and two brothers—and had been drafted by rebel forces to fight the brutal civil war. Beah’s bestselling book, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, recounts his transformation from a kid living in a tightknit community, focused on soccer and hip-hop, into a child so violent that he routinely killed to survive.
His commanders would sell their underlings rhetoric about punishing their parents’ murderers and preventing other children from losing their families. “They fed you lost of drugs, and they fed you lots of hate and propaganda,” Beah said. He feared for his life daily, but those commanders became father figures and the other children like brothers. “Violence became a way to show your loyalty,” he explained.
Eventually, Beah was taken to a UNICEF rehabilitation camp and began his years-long journey to recovery. In 1998, he moved to the U.S., courtesy of a woman he met at a UN conference whom he now considers his mother. He finished high school and graduated from Oberlin College, where an assignment planted the idea for his book.
A Long Way Gone—and Beah’s talks at Concord Academy—humanized Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war while delivering a message of hope: that someone can survive and even recover from a life filled with hate and violence. “It was important to put a human face to it,” Beah said. “It was important to write what war is and what it does to the human spirit.” Please click here for more information about the Hall Fellowship.