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.”