My name is Ishmael Beah. I am a 12 year old boy living in Sierra Leon. My older brother Junior, my two friends, Mohamed and Tolloi and I loved to rap and dance. We always rapped and danced as a hobby during our free time. It’s March 1991. We heard of a talent show in another village. We were so happy about going to this talent show and confident that we would win. We didn’t think much of the talent show being a big deal so, we didn’t tell anyone we were leaving and that we would return the next day. While on our way to Mattru Jong village, the site of the talent show, we heard unexpected gun shots and screams coming from our village, Mogbwemo. While running back to our home village, we saw a woman holding her child, who had been shot in her back. I never thought this day would come. When we arrived at the village, it had been invaded by the RUF (Revolutionary United Front) soldiers. Everyone is running for their lives and scattering in every direction looking for cover from the bullets raining upon everyone. We ran trying to escape. We didn’t think twice about life and death. After we crossed the Jong River, we ended up in Mattru Jong village. We were safe for a while then suddenly, Mattru Jong village is attacked. We ran through dry land, shallow rivers, and over dead bodies. My friends and I came across war torn villages and the villagers thought we were rebels trying to execute another attack. They never trusted us but fed us, occasionally. We roamed our country in search for our families. We were very scared. We barely had any source of food and we didn’t have any shelter. My abduction took place when we found ourselves surrounded by 5 RUF soldiers wearing army uniforms. “Is this your brother?” one of the soldiers asked me. “No Sir.” I said. He asked me the same question again, and I denied it. I knew if I said yes they would make me kill him. They took me away and I never saw my brother again.
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Life as a Child Soldier
I was separated from my brother and my friends when the RUF abducted me. I was brainwashed into using guns. The RUF had many child soldiers thinking that performing violent acts would help me survive in the army. I was forced to use drugs such as marijuana and cocaine. They said that drugs would ease the pain during attack. My job was to strictly kill war prisoners or criminals. About two months into my abduction I was forced to kill a boy who was about 18 years old. He had been in the army for about four years and he tried to escape. I was scared and I felt terrible but I could not show my fear. This experience changed me and I felt so guilty. I felt like I was becoming one of the rebels. I was promoted to a Junior Lieutenant of a squad filled with other children my age. They listened to everything I told them to do whether they liked it or not. If they didn’t listen to my commands, they would be severely punished. Their limbs could be chopped off. Every day we raided villages, did drugs, and killed innocent people. By the age of 13, I witnessed a great deal of violence. During my time as the Jr. Lieutenant of a squad, I became close with another child soldier named Alhaji. Alhaji was nicknamed “Lil Rambo” due to his style during combat. Musa was another friend I met. Musa and I became very close but he unfortunately lost his life during one of our battles with the government’s soldiers. Even though I had been a child soldier for more than two years now, and witnessed several people lose their lives, I was devastated when Musa died. I was starting to become immune to all the violence that I had witnessed. Times were hard and I didn’t think that I would ever get out of this army.
Rescued by the United Nations
At the age of 16, I was rescued by UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and taken into a rehabilitation program where I was actually cared for and not treated like the monster that had actually become. I was starting to have drug withdrawals because of my addiction. In January 1996, UNICEF rescued 57 child soldiers and took them to the rehabilitation center in the capital city of Freetown. I was fortunate enough to be one of those children. While at the rehabilitation center I was reunited with my best friend Mohamed. I also met a nurse there named Esther, who took very good care of me while I was going through rehab. She gave me cassettes with songs from rappers such as run DMC. She also gave me a cassette of Bob Marley. After many months of rehab, I found myself really liking Esther and was so appreciative of all she had done for me. I never saw her again.
After recovering from all the trauma I went through in Sierra Leon, I reunited with my Uncle Tommy. Uncle Tommy and his family adopted me knowing what I had done in the past and forgave me. His wife and three children welcomed me into their home and made me feel like their son. After staying with Uncle Tommy for I while, I was asked, by a UN (United Nations) representative to speak at the United Nations in New York City, about child soldiers. They were interested in my story and how I survived as a child soldier in the army. After speaking to the General Assembly and the United Nations, I exchange contact information with Laura Simms. When I got back to my country, I found out that the RUF had invaded my country again killing hundreds of people including my Uncle Tommy. I left and became a refugee once again. I fled to a neighboring city called Guinea. I contacted Lisa Simms, who I met while I was in New York. I am grateful that she adopted me. I traveled back to the United States where I currently live and continued my education. I travel all over the country and speak to others about my experiences about being a child soldier. I even written a book titled A Long Way Gone.