He endured bloody battles, gunshot wounds and was forced to kill other children who looked just like him. But when Ishmael Beah was at first given the chance to escape the brutal life of a child soldier, he was reluctant to do so.
“In my case, being in the war was actually one of the ways to stay alive,” Beah told HuffPost Live. “Being part of a group, you have a sense of power. You can fend for yourself.”
Beah -- whose novel “Radiance of Tomorrow” is slated to be published next January –- lost his parents and his brothers after the outbreak of the civil war in Sierra Leone in 1991, according to UNICEF. At 13, he was forced to fight for nearly three years before advocates from UNICEF worked to rescue him.
The author shared with HuffPost Live some of the horrors he faced, including being forced to take brown-brown, a mixture of cocaine and gunpowder that numbed his body to the point that he didn’t even feel anything after he was shot.
“It makes you not even feel your own body,” Beah told HuffPost Live. “You’re so numb to everything around you, that you kind of don’t even feel your own skin.”
While Beah was initially hesitant to leave behind the only world he knew, he eventually went to a UNICEF rehabilitation center in Freetown. He then fled to the United States, according to the Ishmael Beah Foundation, where he attended the UN International School and then Oberlin College.
In 2007, Beah was appointed UNICEF’s first Advocate for Children Affected by War, a position that enables him to empower other former child soldiers.
“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,” he said in accepting the role, according to UNICEF, “which is to make sure that what happened to me doesn’t continue to happen to other children around the world.”
Also on HuffPost:
Empower An Ex-Child Soldier
<a href="http://www.unicefusa.org/work/protection/" target="_hplink">UNICEF</a> partners with local Ugandan communities to provide them with the tools they need to protect, heal and empower former child soldiers. The organization works to take guns away from children and moves children away from living in barracks. When it comes to reintegrating ex-soldiers into their communities, UNICEF gives local centers shelter materials, medical services, counseling and job-training support. <em>Get involved with UNICEF's child protection programs <a href="https://secure.unicefusa.org/site/Donation2?df_id=8060&8060.donation=form1" target="_hplink">here</a>. </em>
Help A Child Soldier Reintegrate
<a href="http://www.oxfam.org.uk/oxfam_in_action/where_we_work/uganda.html" target="_hplink">Oxfam</a> raises awareness of child soldiers in Uganda and lobbies for an end to war. The organization provides clean water and sanitation to soldiers living in camps and provides counseling for returning child soldiers. <em>Get involved with Oxfam's child protection programs <a href="http://www.oxfam.org.uk/oxfam_in_action/where_we_work/uganda.html" target="_hplink">here</a>.</em>
Provide Education For A Child Soldier
<a href="http://www.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.6150481" target="_hplink">Save the Children</a> works to ensure that former child soldiers, among other vulnerable populations, have access to basic services when they're reintegrated. The organization provides education, vocational skills training mentorship and more. Its ultimate goal is to help child soldiers establish their livelihoods. <em>Get involved with Save the Children's efforts <a href="http://www.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.6150481/" target="_hplink">here.</a></em>
Help A Former Child Soldier Heal
<a href="http://www.rescue.org/child-soldiers" target="_hplink">The International Rescue Committee</a> offers medical and psychological attention and promotes community child protection committees. The IRC also improves academic options and develops vocational-training programs. "They will recover when communities fully accept the child back, and help him or her assume a positive role and identity," the organization states on its website. <em>Get involved with IRC's efforts <a href="https://www.rescue.org/donate/rescue-partners" target="_hplink">here.</a></em>
Help A Child Soldier Go Home
An estimated 30,000 children have been abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army to carry out horrific crimes, according to "Kony 2012." But even when these young soldiers escape, families are often times reluctant to take them back because they're regarded as targets for potential attacks. <a href="http://www.child-soldier.org/sponsoring-ex-child-soldiers" target="_hplink">SOS Children's Villages </a>offers lifesaving support for these ex-soldiers with its family-tracing services, trauma counseling and community reconciliation. <em>Learn how you can sponsor a Ugandan child <a href="https://www.soschildrensvillages.org.uk/sponsor?" target="_hplink">here.</a></em>
Prevent Recruitment Of Child Soldiers
When <a href="http://www.child-soldiers.org/home" target="_hplink">Child Soldiers International</a> was born, it pressed for a global ban on military recruitment of people below the age of 18. Today, the organization works to implement the treaty that was passed in 2002, <a href="http://www.child-soldiers.org/csi/child_soldiers_international" target="_hplink">according to its website</a>, which more than 140 governments have ratified. <em>Get involved with Child Soldiers International's efforts <a href="http://www.child-soldiers.org/get_involved/get_involved" target="_hplink">here</a>.</em>
Support Legislative Efforts
<a href="http://www.worldvision.org/content.nsf/learn/globalissues-childprotection-conflict-bill" target="_hplink">World Vision</a> seeks to end the use of children as soldiers by advocating for the provisions of the Child Soldier Prevention Act. The bill, signed into law, places limits on provisions the U.S. provides to countries that engage in the practice. <em>Get involved with World Vision's efforts <a href="http://www.worldvision.org/content.nsf/learn/globalissues-childprotection-conflict-bill" target="_hplink">here.</a></em>