In recent years, child soldiering has been a big issue across the world leading to many children having to adapt to their new difficult lives. Despite child soldiering issues improving such as Kony, a rebel leader in Uganda losing much of his army, it still remains a global issue which needs to have an end put to it. In the novel, “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” by Ishmael Beah, he describes his time as a child soldier in his country of Sierra Leone in West Africa. Ishmael shares his tragic stories of what it was like to be a child soldier, the mental and physical toll on his body, and the difficulties on being rehabilitated in order to return to a normal life in society.
Ishmael Beah was a 12 year old boy who was living in Sierra Leone with his family. He and his brother along with a few friends were on their way to partake in a talent show to rap and dance together. During this trip is when he discovers the horrific news of his hometown being attacked by rebel troops and the tragic killing of his and his fellow peer’s families. While waiting, he sees children crying out, babies who have been shot and killed, a man with his dead family piled up in the back of his van, and much more. After seeing this, he knows his family is no longer around and he is going to have to provide for himself from now on with help from his brother and friends. His childhood has come to and end, he must grow up sooner rather than later due to the circumstances which have arised. Ishmael mentions a quote which his grandmother had taught him, “We must strive to be like the moon,” and after this he soaks in what his grandmother taught him to help him through the rough times. “I get a chance to observe the moon now, I still see those same images I saw when I was six, and it pleases me to know that that part of my childhood is still embedded in me” (5). Ishmael is a very strong, resilient child and seems to focus on the good after all these tragedies have happened.
Ishmael, his brother, and friends decide to return to their village because they are becoming hungry and need the money that they left there. When returning, the village is now rebel territory and has been taken over by them. One of the friends is captured and drops a bag full of belongings which may have had money and other resources in it. The boys are becoming starving and they must do whatever they can to survive, while searching for food they are caught by rebels and brought to a village guarded heavily. The rebels threaten to shoot them if they do not follow orders and are forced to laugh with them when they are killing an innocent old man. Somehow, the boys manage to escape the rebel village and continue on their own. They walk for days at a time with no sleep and only stop to drink water from streams with no food at all. While traveling, they have many close calls with rebels but learn how to avoid being caught, this often means splitting up and being alone for days at a time. Beah states “One of the unsettling things about my journey, mentally, physically, and emotionally, was that I wasn’t sure when or where it was going to end. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I felt that I was starting over and over again” (69). Beah just wanted to settle down and live a normal life but was unable to do so due to the war going on, he thought he would never live a normal life again.
While continuing on their journey, the boys run into more soldier, they were frightened that they are rebel soldiers but these turned out to be government soldiers. These soldiers take them to a village where the soldiers and civilians are living together where they seem to have some sort of happiness living there. Ishmael and the rest of the boys find shelter, they have food, water and many of the other supplies that they need in order to survive. The government soldiers back with less soldiers each time, this forces the government to ask anyone who is able to fight to do so or they can leave the camp with the shelter provided. Ishmael and the other boys agree to join the army, they need the resources and can’t afford to be on their own again. Beah and the rest of the group receive AK-47’s and must get rid of their clothes in order to receive the clothes fit for the army. Ishmael kills a man for the first time after seeing his friends and campmates die. He gains a thirst for killing, shooting as much as he can and killing all the rebels he comes across. Ishmael felt safe here, he had found a place to fit in, “This gun is your source of power in these times. It will protect you and provide you all you need, if you know how to use it well” (124). Beah was comfortable living in this harsh reality because it was the norm, there was no way out in his eyes.
Being a child soldier, you are forced to be brainwashed most of the time. Beah and the rest of the child soldiers are given white capsules which consists of meth, cocaine, and marijuana. These drugs helped Ishmael cope with the killing of the rebels, it allowed him to not have any emotions when doing his killings. “We were always either at the front lines, watching a war movie, or doing drugs. There was no time to be alone or to think” (124). In the article under Child Soldiering called “The Child Soldiers Who Escaped Islamic State” by The Wall Street Journal, it shows another way children can be brainwashed to become a soldier. A young boy tells his brother, “You’re an apostate. If you don’t come back, we will punish you by God’s law” (3). The article says that children seen a decapitated body and as they played with its head, they shouted “This is an apostate, an infidel!” while smiling (4). Children are being brainwashed by saying they will be in good standing with god if they become a soldier and kill. It is easy to convince a child which is why they are easy targets to make soldiers.
It is understandable that a government can only do so much for their community with the scarce amount of money that they may have. Although, there is possible solutions that may help with stopping child soldiering that can be cost effective. A good first step is to change the law of allowing soldiers to be a minimum of 18 years of age. The country I am involved with would become allies with nearby countries and give them the support they need and vice versa with the necessary supplies needed. This can mean trading goods and helping each other with supplies that the specific country lacks. When rebel attacks happen, the countries you have become allies with can help take care of the rebels without the needs of child soldiers. Armies can team up to be double the size of rebel armies which means they can kill or arrest the rebels with ease. This would allow rebel armies not to gain as much power because they can be taken down before it is too late to deal with them. We may call the program in this case, “Sierra Leone Unites” having billboards, and education towards the program and who the country has allied with all over.
Another example could be from what we learned in class, the Guns vs Better model. Countries can give a bit more to the military in order to have the weapons they need, have advanced training of soldiers and having children not getting involved with this at all. Countries can use goods from training to supply more supplies and money needed to a military to help them expand and grow stronger. This is a program which has been made already but can be implemented because the country may have not heard of it. Communities would just have to realize they will receive less government help until attacks are over which they should be fine with. Sierra Leone can benefit from better training and more skilled soldiers because they were being killed very quickly in combat. Higher training, better guns, food, and other supplies can help an army defeat rebels easier without losing so many troops.
In the case of Ishmael and his fellow soldiers, they were lucky enough to have a commanding officer who allowed them to receive help from UNICEF. UNICEF provides food and health care to children who are in need, they came to Sierra Leone when child soldiers were in need of help. UNICEF was not aware of how bad the child soldiers were in Sierra Leone and learned quickly that they were going to need a lot of attention. “The drugs were wearing off, I craved cocaine and marijuana so badly that I would roll a plain sheet of paper and smoke it…and stole some painkillers…it didn’t give us the effect we wanted. We got more upset day by day, as a result resorted to more violence” (139). “I cringed and rolled around on the floor by my bed or sometimes on the verandah. No one paid any attention, as everyone was going through their own withdrawal stages” (140). The child soldiers had become so used to their old ways that it was hard to adapt, they were brought in together with other soldiers and would still show their violent acts. They had medical help and food but it was all refused, they wanted to go back to their old ways and did not want to accept rehab.
UNICEF was eventually able to help Ishmael, he met a nurse named Esther who reminded him of his previous life. She gave him a rap tape and it reminded him of when he was going to go to the talent show to rap and dance, he enjoys those memories. Esther takes care of him and checks up on him with his medical treatment, she also comforts him and tries to take his mind off all the wrongs he has done. Esther proceeded to say “None of these things are your fault” (165). Ishmael was glad to hear that and said “I only liked talking to her because I felt she didn’t judge me for what I have done” (166). Ishmael’s rehab was starting to pay off, he was taking in help from Esther and was slowly beginning to improve. His mind was finally not reliving his moments of killing, his childhood was slowly returning. He remembered what his grandmother had said, “In the sky there are always answers and explanations for everything: every pain, every suffering, joy, and confusion.” That night I wanted the sky to talk to me” (166).
Ishmael’s rehab has gone exceptionally well and UNICEF has allowed him to move in with his uncle and reunite with his family and society. He is scared to do so and does not think he will fit in, “I was worried about what to do when my nightmares and migraines got a hold of me. How was I going to explain my sadness? When I told Esther about my questions, she told me everything was going to be fine” (179). When Ishmael’s uncle arrived he picked him up and was excited to take him home. Ishmael felt home again and was excited to get his life back. Ishmael had been rehabilitated with the help of UNICEF. During class we had a discussion on whether or not children can be brought back after years of fighting as a child soldier, I believe they can be and Ishmael is a great example of this.
Ishmael was chose to go to New York to speak about his days as a child soldier and the impact it had on him. He speaks out and says “War forces us to run away from our homes, lose our families, we get involved in the conflicts of soldiers, all this is because of starvation, the loss of our families, and the need to feel safe and be part of something when all else has broken down. I joined the army really because the loss of my family and starvation” (199). Ishmael perfectly describes what causes a child soldier. He then meets a woman named Laura who wants to keep in touch while he is back in Sierra Leone. Everything was going great with Ishmael until a war started again in Sierra Leone and they were recruiting child soldiers again. Ishmael contacted Laura in New York and asks her if he can stay with her and adopt him, she agrees. He was able to move with her and start a new life, this was all thanks to the resources of UNICEF.
Ishmael found a way to escape, was able to rehab, move to the U.S. and become a successful author and activist, he is the prime example of a second chance and everyone deserves one. With the help of everyone around the world and programs like UNICEF, child soldiering can be ended for good and kids can be able to live their own lives and make a name of themselves just like Ishmael did. Child soldiering is not a forever thing, it can be reversed and children can go back to being children. The children are not at fault, the brainwashing of government and rebellious groups are what cause them to be this way. If they can be stopped, an end can be put to children being trained to kill before they can even learn how to solve a math equation. We must continue the fight and end child soldiering forever.


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