Biography Ishmael Beah
Ishmael Beah was born on November 23, 1980, in Mattru Jong, Bonthe District, Sierra Leone, in west Africa. The civil war that was to change his life so dramatically began in March 1991, when he was ten years old. When he was twelve, the war affected him directly. Rebel forces attacked his home village of Mogbwemo, killing his parents. Beah wandered as a refugee from place to place for nearly a year, both alone and with a small group of boys including his older brother. Shortly after his brother was killed, Beah was recruited as a soldier by the government army. He was then thirteen years old. He remained a soldier, taking part in many battles with rebel forces, until early 1996, when at the age of fifteen he was removed from the army by UNICEF and placed in a rehabilitation home in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital city. He spent eight months in the home before being sent to live with his uncle in Freetown. In November 1996 he traveled to New York City to take part in a conference, the United Nations First International Children’s Parliament.
In late 1997, Beah left Sierra Leone to escape the violence in Freetown that followed a military coup. He immigrated to the United States, where he lived with an American family in New York City. He finished his last two years of high school at the United Nations International School in New York and then attended Oberlin College, graduating in 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. He also won Oberlin’s Dainne Vruels Fiction Prize for his story “At Noon.”
While at Oberlin, Beah was an advocate for the rights of children caught up in war. In 2006, he gave a speech at the Religions for Peace Youth Assembly, “Religious Youth for Peace: Confronting Violence and Advancing Shared Security” in Japan.
In 2007, Beah published A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, which told the story of his years as a refugee and soldier. The book became a best-seller, although in subsequent years questions have been raised about its factual accuracy.
Beah has worked for Human Rights Watch and was the keynote speaker at the Global Young Leaders Conference in 2007, and the 2008 College Conference in Montreat, North Carolina.