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Presidential Lecture Series

Ishmael Beah

Recognition Year: 

Author and former child soldier from Sierra Leone

"An Afternoon with Ishmael Beah"

September 3, 2010 
Nutter Center

Ishmael Beah was 11 when his life, along with the lives of millions of other Sierra Leoneans, was derailed by the outbreak of a brutal civil war. His parents and two brothers were killed, and at age 13 Ishmael was forced to fight as a child soldier. For over two years he fought before being removed from the army by UNICEF and placed in a rehabilitation home. After completing rehabilitation in late 1996, Ishmael attended a conference at the United Nations to talk about the devastating effects of war on children in his country. There he met his new mother, Laura Simms, a professional storyteller who lives in New York. In 1998, Beah came to live with his American family, completing high school at the UN International School and subsequently attending Oberlin College in Ohio.

Even while in school, Beah continued bringing attention to the plight of child soldiers and children affected by war around the world. He spoke on numerous occasions on behalf of UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations Secretary General's Office for Children and Armed Conflict, at the United Nations General Assembly. He also served on a UN panel with Secretary General Kofi Annan and discussed the issue with dignitaries such as Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton.

In his book A Long Way Gone, Beah, now 26 years old, tells his riveting firsthand story of how he wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence—and learned that he too was capable of terrible acts. In the end, his story is one of redemption and hope.