“There were all kinds of stories told about the war that made it sound as if it was happening in a faraway and different land. It wasn’t until refugees started passing through our town that we began to see that it was actually taking place in our country.” Those are the words that begin the 240-page memoir written by Sierra Leone native and former child soldier, Ishmael Beah.
Beah, author of “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier,” will be visiting and speaking during Cabrini’s Founder’s Day activities on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at 7 p.m. in the Grace Hall Atrium.
The 26-year-old is known around the world for the account of his escape from his once peaceful life in the western African country, to being thrown into the whirlwind of heavy artillery, narcotics and the gruesome massacring of his fellow people. He is one of the first to tell the experiences of a boy soldier in his own words and then ultimately to recount his rescue and rehabilitation in the United States.
At the age of 12, Beah fled from his hometown in search of safe grounds as the rebels began invading the homes of innocent people and mercilessly murdering them. By the age of 13, Beah was adopted into the government army as a child soldier. He was immediately brainwashed and manipulated to commit crimes and acts of violence that were unimaginable to a child his age.
In 1991, civil war erupted in Sierra Leone. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a rebel group formed to fight against the government that they believed was corrupt, attacked communities, raped women and children, amputated limbs and murdered innocent people to prove that their rulers were mismanaging diamond and mineral resources.
The rebel groups and the government, both opposing forces, used a large number of children as soldiers. Approximately one fourth of the children in Sierra Leone were forced to become soldiers and Beah was one. They carried weapons almost heavier than themselves and fought for something they did not understand at the time, as he explains in his autobiography.
Beah was rescued by UNICEF after fighting for three years. He traveled to the United States where he was placed in a foster family and began his education. In New York City, he attended the United Nations International School and later furthered his education at Oberlin College. He graduated in 2004 with a degree in politics.
Among Beah’s many appearances and accomplishments, he has spoken at the UN and met with world leaders including Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela. He delivered a speech at the “Free Children from War” conference in Paris. Beah has written for the New York Times Magazine and has appeared on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
At Cabrini, in the afternoon, he will be speaking with a group of students who have read his book. Students will be given an opportunity to discuss his memoir and ask him questions related to his work. He will also be delivering a speech in the Grace Hall Atrium with Catholic Relief Services President Ken Hackett at 7 p.m.
Catholic Relief Services President Ken Hackett will be speaking, along with author and ex-boy soldier Ishmael Beah, on Tuesday, Feb. 19 at Cabrini’s Founder’s Day. Hackett comes to speak to the Cabrini community with more than 30 years experience with CRS, including 15 years as its president. CRS works in more than 100 countries and has a global staff of approximately 5,000.
CRS provides relief assistance around the world after natural disasters and man-made ones like war. Additionally, it works in poor nations to help people develop and thrive. Finally, it seeks to promote in Americans a sense of global solidarity with the poor of the world.
In 1993 as executive director Hackett began leading CRS in new directions that sought to work on the root causes of injustice and war in the countries in which it worked. In addition to providing disaster relief, CRS focuses on hunger, food and water issues. Almost 20 percent of its budget works to help societies affected by HIV/AIDS. Education and peacebuilding work seek to lay a foundation for future improvements in poor countries. Microfinancing and food security are also on the list and are becoming hot topics amongst advocates for peace, equality and justice.
In October of 2007, Hackett’s position in the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s Board of Directors was confirmed for a second term. The MCC is the United States government’s corporation to work with the poorest countries in the world. Hackett’s honor comes with great esteem as the body of the MCC Board, chaired by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, is composed of only four non-governmental representatives in addition to five from the U.S. government.
“I am honored to be selected to a second term as an MCC Board member,” said Hackett in a press release releases by CRS. “Over the past three years I have witnessed this new agency evolve into a world-class institution that is helping millions of people pull themselves out of poverty. I am proud to have been part of this early success and look forward to more accomplishments in the future.”
Hackett’s placement in the MCC is well fit as the MCC is a corporation designed to aid in the recovery, establishment and over all betterment of the poorest countries in the world. Much like CRS, the MCC considers economic growth to be a primary key in the fight against poverty.
Hackett and Beah’s speeches for Founder’s Day: Transformations of the Heart are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in the Grace Hall Atrium. All are encouraged to attend.