Former Child Soldier, Rehabilitation Nurse Return to UT

KNOXVILLE –- As a follow-up to their standing-room-only appearance last fall, rescued child soldier Ishmael Beah and nurse Alusine Kamara will return to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, on Oct. 17 for a lecture and book signing.

The two met under the harshest of circumstances.

Ishmael Beah
Ishmael Beah
Beah was a child soldier fighting on the front lines of a war that engulfed his native Sierra Leone. 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.

Free and open to the public, the event — which will include a discussion and question-and-answer session — will be held at 2 p.m. in the Cox Auditorium of Alumni Memorial Building.

This year, through UT Knoxville’s Life of the Mind program, all incoming freshmen were assigned to read Beah’s best-selling book, “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier,” and students met before the start of the semester to discuss the book’s many themes.

The Life of the Mind program and Ready for the World, UT Knoxville’s international and intercultural initiative, are sponsoring Beah and Kamara’s return visit.

“Last year, the UT community witnessed the reunion of Ishmael and Alusine for the first time since Alusine assisted in Beah’s rehabilitation after his service as a child soldier. We’re thrilled to have them return to campus to talk about how they’ve made lives for themselves outside of war,” said Mary Papke, who directs both Ready for the World and Life of the Mind.

“We invite the entire campus community — and especially our freshmen who participated in Life of the Mind — to witness and participate in this important discussion.”

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 the men’s first visit and, since then, both men have joined the center’s advisory board.

“We’re very excited to have Ishmael and Alusine take such an interest in the center and in UT Knoxville. Their input into the study of children and war will give us unparalleled insights. And, having them appear not just once, but twice, on campus is an extraordinary opportunity for our campus and community,” Barber said.

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 re-enter 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.

Contacts:

Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu