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Ishmael Beah Shares War Experiences with Students at World Writers’ Festival

September 20, 2013

Author Ishmael Beah spoke with French students at Columbia Global Centers | Europe to share some of his experiences as a boy in the war in Sierra Leone. Beah, who also answered questions from the students, appeared as part of the World Writers’ Festival that opens today. The festival is hosted at the Paris Center and various locations around the city and is co-sponsored by Columbia University and Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The audience of students were from a pair of college-prep academies: Lycée Vernant de Sèvres  and Lycée Jacques Brel la Courneuve.

Beah told them that his mother, father, sister and brother were murdered during the war. He joined a group of other boys and fled the area.

“We ended up running from the war constantly,” he said.

They were not fast enough, unfortunately, to outrun the warlords. They were eventually captured and forced to fight in the battle.

“You either fought or they would kill you,” Beah told the students, adding that he witnessed the killings of other boys who were unwilling or slow to take up arms.

“You could not express your emotions, because it would cost you your life. You learned to harden yourself so you could survive.”

Beah is the author of New York Times bestselling memoir, “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” about his experiences in the war. He is a UNICEF advocate for Children Affected by War, a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Advisory Committee and has spoken before the United Nations, and the Council on Foreign Relations. He’s currently working on his next book, a novel, and joins us for a wide-ranging conversation about his extraordinary life and work.

Slideshow

Writer Ishmael Beah speaks to a group of French students at the World Writers' Festival in Paris.

—Photographs by Jeff Ballinger