Ishmael Beah’s early childhood in Sierra Leone was a simple one filled with happy memories. During a recent visit to Atlanta, Ishmael recounted stories of playing impromptu, competitive soccer games with his father, brother and friends, and of crowding around the sole television in his village to watch music videos with his friends. Life was easy when he was young.
That all changed in 1993, when the civil war that had erupted in Sierra Leone a few years earlier rolled into his village of Mogbwemo. By the time he was 13 years old, his mother, father, brother and both sisters had all been killed by the rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front. Now an orphan and desperate to belong somewhere, he was drawn to the life of a child soldier, fighting on behalf of the government army and against the rebel army that had killed his family. He and other “conscripted” children were fed a constant diet of drugs to stave off hunger and keep them numb to all the killing forced on them.
Ultimately, Ishmael’s story is one of triumph and success –because he was able to flee the violence and danger in his country and enter the US as a refugee at the age of 17. Through the kindness and support of many who played a key role in his rehabilitation and reincorporation into society, he eventually graduated from high school in New York and from Oberlin College in 2004. He is now a highly regarded author, child soldier activist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador who works to bring light to the plight of children in armed conflict around the world. You can learn more about his story through his book A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.
While Ishmael’s case is one of the most dire ones, he is not alone. Many refugees arriving in the US are leaving behind their own stories of persecution and are in desperate need of a place where they can have a shot at a future. US-based refugee organizations like New American Pathways have the important mission of helping newly-arrived refugees resettle in their new country and navigate the complexities of life in the US. Supporting New American Pathways is an opportunity to leverage our good fortune to benefit some well-deserving individuals. Because –as Ishmael said during a presentation at Morehouse College in October—privilege is not something to feel guilty about. But it does create responsibility.
By: Wendy Gutiérrez Cheeks
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Many refugees arriving in the US are leaving behind their own stories of persecution and are in desperate need of a place where they can have a shot at a future.
“We must live in the radiance of tomorrow, as our ancestors have suggested in their tales. For what is yet to come tomorrow has possibilities, and we must think of it, the simplest glimpse of that possibility of goodness. That will be our strength. That has always been our strength.”
– Ishmael Beah, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier