UNICEF People

Ishmael Beah

Advocate for Children Affected by War

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“I know the nature of what it is to be forgotten, what it is to lose your humanity, and more importantly, what it is to recover from it and to have another life.” – Ishmael Beah

Ishmael Beah, best-selling author and human rights spokesperson, was appointed UNICEF’s first Advocate for Children Affected by War on 20 November 2007.  In accepting the position Mr. Beah said, “… for me it’s just a way to give me more strength to continue doing what I’ve already embarked on, what I’ve dedicated my life to doing – which is to make sure that what happened to me doesn’t continue to happen to other children around the world.”  He pledged to give a voice and hope to children whose lives have been scarred by violence.

In 1991, the outbreak of a brutal civil war in Sierra Leone upended the lives of millions.  Ishmael Beah’s parents and two brothers were killed and he was forcibly recruited into the war at age 13. After two years, with UNICEF help, he was removed from the army and placed in a rehabilitation home in Freetown.

At the 1996 United Nations presentation of the Machel Report on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, Mr. Beah spoke about the devastating effects of war on children in his country. In May 2000, at the UN Special Session on Children he served on a panel entitled ‘Reclaiming Our Children: The UN Responds to the Plight of the Child Soldier’. The panel included then Secretary General Kofi Annan and UN agency heads.

Mr. Beah continues his advocacy to help change the course for the thousands of children still trapped in wars. He is a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Advisory Committee and has testified before the United States Congress. In 2008, he co-founded the Network of Young People Affected by War (NYPAW) with a mission to raise awareness of the plight of children in conflict zones, advocate for an end to hostilities and provide role models for children who are currently struggling to recover from war.

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Ishmael Beah’s book, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier was published in the United States in 2007. It has since been published in Canada, Europe, Latin America and Asia and appears in over 35 languages. The book was also available in Starbucks shops, and for each book sold, US$ 2.00 went to the US Fund for UNICEF.  A Long Way Gone has been assigned to freshman classes of several universities in the US.

Mr. Beah has received numerous humanitarian and writing awards. He has spoken at many literary festivals including the Hay on Wye Literary Festival in Wales, United Kingdom. He appears in Bling: A Planet Rock, a 2007 documentary that draws attention to the diamond conflict.

Ishmael Beah lives in New York City.   


 

 

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