Ishmael Beah was a child soldier fighting on the front lines of a war that engulfed his native Sierra Leone.
Alusine Kamara was the director of a child soldier rehabilitation center in Sierra Leone that gave former fighters, including Beah, the chance to recover from their often horrific experiences.
Now, a decade later, Beah and Kamara will reunite for the first time at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to discuss their experiences with war and recovery and to reflect on their own extraordinary relationship.
They will speak together at 7 p.m. on Nov. 19 in the Cox Auditorium of Alumni Memorial Building. The event is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Youth and Political Violence, and is part of UT’s Ready for the World initiative.
A book signing will be held immediately afterward in Room 158 of Alumni Memorial Building. Beah’s book, "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier" will be available for purchase.
The conversation between Beah and Kamara will be moderated by Brian Barber, director of the Center for the Study of Youth and Political Violence. Barber arranged this reunion for Beah and Kamara.
"Ishmael is a phenomenal young man. He survived a physical and emotional nightmare and, with the help of Kamara, has managed to go on with his life," Barber said. "Through his book and his public lectures, we are getting a glimpse into a life that’s hard to imagine. To have him visit, especially with his close friend and mentor, Kamara, is a rare privilege for us."
Promoted by Starbucks and sold in the coffee shops nationwide, "A Long Way Gone" is described as "a gripping story of a child’s journey through hell and back."
The book’s publisher describes Beah’s book in this way: "There may be as many as 300,000 child soldiers, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s, in more than 50 conflicts around the world. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them. He is one of the first to tell his story in his own words.
"At the age of 12, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By 13, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts. Eventually released by the army and sent to a UNICEF rehabilitation center, he struggled to regain his humanity and to reenter the world of civilians, who viewed him with fear and suspicion. This is, at last, a story of redemption and hope," the synopsis states.
Time magazine has called Beah "the literary-humanitarian equivalent of a rock star" and described his book as "a breathtaking and unselfpitying account of how a gentle spirit survives a childhood from which all innocence has suddenly been sucked out …."
Beah was born in Sierra Leone in 1980. In 1998, after recovering from his experiences in the war, Beah moved to the United States. He finished high school at the United Nations International School in New York.
Beah attended Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. There, two creative writing professors encouraged him to write and, before he finished college, Beah had a draft of his book.
Beah graduated from Oberlin in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. His book was published in 2007.
Beah now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., is an active member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Advisory Committee, and has spoken before the Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities, the Council of Foreign Relations, the United Nations, and many nongovernmental organization panels that deal with children affected by the war in Sierra Leone.
UT’s Center for the Study of Youth and Political Violence was established in 2005 with the aim of becoming an authoritative source and training agent for the potential joint role of scholarship, programming, practice and policy in serving the needs of adolescents involved in political violence around the world.
The center is coordinating a series of annual conferences focusing on Northern Ireland, South Africa and Israel-Palestine. At these conferences, experts from government, academia, social services, health services, youth development agencies and religious institutions gather to evaluate past and current efforts focused on youth in their regions.
"Ready for the World: The International and Intercultural Awareness Initiative" is UT’s ongoing effort to transform the campus into a culture of diversity that best prepares students for working and competing in the 21st century. The initiative involves increasing the diversity among our students, faculty and staff; altering the curriculum; encouraging faculty to incorporate international and intercultural aspects in all of their courses; expanding study-abroad and work-study opportunities; and encouraging students to take advantage of all of these opportunities.