|First-time author and former child soldier Ishmael Beah signs copies of his book ‘A Long Way Gone’ during the launch event at UNICEF House in New York.|
By Anwulika Okafor
NEW YORK, USA, 16 February 2006 – Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone, is no stranger to talking before an audience. He has travelled the world speaking out and galvanizing international efforts to rehabilitate children caught in conflict.
Yet Mr. Beah, now 26, knew that even these efforts were not enough to fully explain the traumatic life of a child soldier – so he sat down and wrote the story of his own experience.
Last night at UNICEF headquarters in New York, Executive Director Ann M. Veneman and other dignitaries were on hand at a reception for Mr. Beah to launch his new memoir, ‘A Long Way Gone’. The book chronicles his violent past and the road back to reclaiming his humanity with the help of a UNICEF-supported rehabilitation programme.
“All human beings have the capacity to lose their humanity,” Mr. Beah said during the UNICEF event, where he also signed copies of his book for those in attendance. “We are capable of regaining our humanity when given the help and support we need,” he added.
|UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman and Ishmael Beah (fourth and fifth from left) with other dignitaries at the book launch.|
300,000 children in armed conflict
When Mr. Beah was a young boy, his parents were killed and he was recruited as a soldier to fight in the decade-long civil war that plagued Sierra Leone until a peace agreement brought it to an end in 2002. For years, he was forced to carry and use weapons. He was exposed to drugs and the horrors of war, including watching several friends die in the fighting.
Mr. Beah’s rehabilitation at the age of 16 proved both painful and difficult for him. His is the story of an estimated 300,000 children worldwide who are currently involved in armed conflict.
“The sad thing about this story is that it is far too common,” said Ms. Veneman.
In addition to being available at bookstores, ‘A Long Way Gone’ will be sold at all Starbucks coffee houses in the United States. Starbucks will donate a portion of the proceeds back to UNICEF programmes that support the rehabilitation of child soldiers.
Among those on hand for last night’s book launch (seen from left to right in photo above) were:
Starbucks Regional Vice-President Jim McDermet; the UN Permanent Representative of France, Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sablière; the former UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu; Ms. Veneman and Mr. Beah; current UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomarsaswamy; and US Fund for UNICEF Chief Operating Officer Caryl Stern.
UN Secretary-General urges action to stop violence against children [with video and audio]