Each year the University of Southern Maine hosts a lecture regarding genocide and human rights throughout the world. This year’s event featured guest speaker Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier in West Africa, who spoke of his experience in his homeland’s civil war and the overall effects war has on children. Beah is one of an estimated 300,000 kids who were forced to fight as a child in the Sierra Leone Civil War.
The fourth annual lecture was part of the evening’s focus on “War and Reconciliation: from Child Soldiers to Community Healers” and was the latest in the University of Southern Maine hosted Douglas M. Schair Memorial Lecture on Genocide and Human Rights.
During the 1990’s Sierra Leone was a country divided by war. With his hometown under attack by the rebel army, Beah was forced to flee his home at the age of 12. After running for nearly a year, he arrived at an army base in the southeast region of the country. By the age of 13 he was fighting back.
In his highly publicized book, A Long Way Gone: Memoir of a Boy Soldier, Beah recalls his experiences during the civil war that killed tens of thousands countrymen and displaced two million more. On April 14th, Beah told his story to a capacity crowd at USM’s Hannaford Lecture Hall.
After being forced to fight the rebel army for two years, Beah was removed from combat and sent to a rehabilitation center in the capital city of Sierra Leone. At the age of fifteen, he was chosen to speak about the war to the United Nations, and was later granted the opportunity to study in the U.S. after completing high school. Other than an uncle who was killed in the war, Beah never saw his family again.
The civil war tore apart Sierra Leone for over a decade, as a country abundant in natural resources became the world’s poorest in 1998. The diamond industry was the center of struggle, illegally fueling the rebel army with exploitations of “blood diamonds.” Corruption spread throughout the country, forcing the government to intervene in what would be a long and costly civil war. Nearly twenty years later Sierra Leone remains one of the leading diamond manufacturers in the world. Yet while being better regulated since the end of the war seven years ago, the country remains prone to diamond smuggling.
In addition to Ishmael Beah’s speech, the program featured a film documenting post-civil war Sierra Leone. The movie, Fambul Tok, was made by the Portland-based foundation Catalyst for Peace, a company that supports community based peace building initiatives around the world.
As proud supporters of the Douglas M. Schair Memorial Lecture on Genocide and Human Rights, the Law Offices of Joe Bornstein presented Beah’s bestselling memoir to a group of local students who were honored before the event as “ambassadors against genocide and the abuse of human rights.” The educational night was capped off by a question and answering session and a book signing by the author himself.
Previous guest speakers at the annual Schair Memorial Lecture include Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero of the acclaimed film “Hotel Rwanda,” Judea Pearl, father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl, and Akbar Ahmed, a renowned authority on Islam. And the Law Offices of Joe Bornstein salute each and every one of them.
For more information on the Douglas M. Schair Memorial Lecture on Genocide and Human Rights please contact the University of Southern at 207.780.5331.