Few stories from Sierra Leone’s terrible Civil War have resonated so deeply or so widely as the personal narrative of Ishmael Beah, author, human rights activist and former child soldier. Mr. Beah’s biographical account, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, has moved, educated and engaged his readers with the plight of child soldiers in Sierra Leone and around the world. Fambul Tok works for peace, but works also to tell individual stories of peace. To have Mr. Beah lend us his perspective and his voice is a great honor.
Mr. Beah has shared his story and his cause on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, with former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and with Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton. He has also shared his story here in Portland, at the invitation of the Douglas M. Schair Memorial Lecture Committee at the University of Southern Maine. Fambul Tok’s own Libby Hoffman screened an early rough cut of Fambul Tok: The Film as part of the evening’s program, and with Mr. Beah took part in a Q&A session afterwards.
Impressed by the film and by Fambul Tok’s impact in his home country, Mr. Beah’s admiration for Fambul Tok deepened during a subsequent visit to Sierra Leone when he met Executive Director John Caulker and observed the program firsthand. He offered to assist with the program in any way he could, and we are grateful for his agreeing to serve on our Advisory Board.
Mr. Beah, who lost his parents and brothers at the outset of the Civil War and who was himself forcibly conscripted at age 13, has a keen understanding of the ravages of war and firsthand experience with the hard work of making peace with yourself and others. After two years of fighting, Mr. Beah was rescued the front lines by UNICEF and placed in a rehabilitation program in Freetown. He went on to finish high school and came to the United States to attend Oberlin College in Ohio. While he completed his education he came to his life’s work—speaking for all children affected by war.
Mr. Beah regularly returns to Sierra Leone to address the ongoing difficulties faced by child soldiers repatriating into their communities. His insight into war, passion for peace and love of his home country have much to offer Fambul Tok. Mr. Beah has made his own story both indelible and universal in A Long Way Gone. We are grateful for his help in sharing the stories of the people of Sierra Leone—and all they have to teach us—with the world.