A Long Way Gone

Watch the short video and answer the following questions:

–          Why did Ishmael Beah write “A Long Way Gone”?

–          Why should this memoir be read by as many people as possible?

–          What personal information do you get to learn about Ishamel?


The following interview is very thorough and it reveals us lots of things about Ishamel Beah’s life.

He  tells a powerfully gripping story: At the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts. At sixteen, he was removed from fighting by UNICEF, and through the help of the staff at his rehabilitation center, he learned how to forgive himself, to regain his humanity, and, finally, to heal.

Watch the interview and note down what aspects and contents of the interview struck you the most.

My new friends have begun to suspect I haven’t told them the full story of my life.
“Why did you leave Sierra Leone?”
“Because there is a war.”
“You mean, you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?”
“Yes, all the time.”
I smile a little.
“You should tell us about it sometime.”
“Yes, sometime.”

This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them.

What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this hell and survived.

The average person in Europe knows very little about child soldiers in the world.  We think this “plague of the heart and  soul , of the mind and the body”  hits Africa only.  Look at the following footage and learn a bit more about this stark reality.

Ishmael mentions the terrible conditions of child soldiers and the demobilization and rehabilitation steps are mentioned.  If you want to know more about the way a child soldier can move back to a “normal” life, see the following webpage:


In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now twenty-five years old, tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.

This is a rare and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.

You can get to know more about the life of the author, you can have access to his webpage and his twitter page (really worth looking at it, beautiful images) by clicking on the link below.


Then, should you want to get a taste of the language “A long Way Gone” is written in, start from this excerpt.


I was personally struck by the reading of this book and I am even more amazed at the resilience and stamina this young man has proven to have in his life.  He came to terms with his war experience, he wrote about it to sensitize the public opinion of the appalling conditions soldier boys are subjected to, of the hellish existence, or better, non-existence, they are obliged to live.  On top of that he managed to set up an organization to help young people like him overcome the trauma of an unwanted war.


Watch the following interview and listen to the following audio clip

Different young people from all over the world came up with different projects to sensitize people to the issue of young children being kidnapped to be turned into “killing machines”.  Which project do you like best? What would you personally do to spread your knowledge of child soldiers, to protest against the abuse of childhood and adolescence to fight wars?



What would your booktrailer be like?

15 year old Madeleine came to the UN to testify about the horrors of life at the hands of Thomas Lubanga as a Child Soldier.


This project compares the differences in living conditions in different part of the world.  I constantly ask myself and tell my students: how come I was born in a condition of serenety and democracy.  As a child did I deserve better than other kids in the world.  Obviously the answer is no and I would add that it is just by sheer luck that I was born free, I could study, and I could be brought up in a country that safeguarded my rights as a child and now as an adult woman (regardless of all the contradictions any state and country reveals).  The only thing as a teacher and educator I could do was that of asking you, my students, to read this memoir and think about an issue (child soldier) so distant from our own lives.

What would your t-shirt look like?

Leonard Cohen’s words pierced my mind.  The line “there is a crack in everything” made me think of the cracked mind, soul and body of a child soldier.  I think that we can all make a difference by contributing to child soldiers’ heart being filled in with our cry “we care”.  So please donate and help them.  I did it! Follow my suit.  You can well renounce topping up your mobile phone for a week, it is just $ 10 but what is little for us makes a great difference in the cracked heart of a former child soldier.  Let’s help them recover from the emotional disasters that wars “brand” in them.

We can all contribute to helping with the rehabilitation of child soldiers.  Make your contribution, make a difference.



Who are child soldiers?

The Coalition considers the term child soldier to be equivalent to the following description of children associated with armed forces or groups:

 A child associated with an armed force or armed group refers to any

person below 18 years of age who is, or who has been, recruited or

used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but

not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters,

spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is

taking, or has taken, a direct part in hostilities.

Read more about child soldiers:



Girl soldiers

Face to face with Joseph Kony

In Leonard Cohen’s words I wish child soldiers the healing of their spirit and the healing of their mind

47 Replies to “A Long Way Gone”

  1. Well, I think that Ishmael Beah wrote this book in order to not forgive what was a part of his own life.
    He used to live in Sierra Leone, a country where the war destroyed thousand of lifes.
    When he was a child he was recruited to be a soldier and then he lost himself.
    With drugs, that the commander gave to him and his companions, he was capable of shooting with guns and killing people, he could not separate what was good or evil any more and the commander became a sort of father, because that was his reality.
    He was saved by Unicef, which takes him to rehab and lets him have an education in New York.
    His professor at high school pushed him to write a memoir of his experiences, becase this is a story to be told.
    Ishmael thinks that occidental society has a romantic view of what war is, and with his book he wants to sensitize the pubblic to children soldiers and re-give people the idea of real war.
    He said that he will never be able to forget and he has still nightmares and flasbacks. He learned how to forgive himself as a boy soldier and to continue and appreciate his life.
    Recently Ishmael founded an organization to help children to overcome the war and go on, as he did. He supports Unicef and other organizations socially active with boy soldiers, because between them there could be other peacemakers, who could help solving this condition.

  2. “A long way gone” is a really interesting book, that shows in a direct way how a war can deeply change a country that was previously peaceful. I don’t like reading so much, and honestly I found this book a little bit burdensome because of all the long descriptions, which I don’t appreciate too much in books. But going on with the reading I started to be draw in the narration.
    The story gives us important and decided feeling. The images that the book gives us, through the voice of The writer Ishmael Beah, make us think because they are true images he saw with his own eye. He felt for real the pain to be alone and couldn’t do anything to change this. He felt on his own skin the terrible feeling to be involved in a war and had to hold an AK-47 in order to save his life.
    This kind of books really deserve to be read, because people who hadn’t lived any kind of conflict can’t imagine and understand the pain that people who had lived this situation felt.
    People who live in counties in which various conflict are in place must be helped, in order to avoid and prevent that other situation, like the one Ishmael had lived, doesn’t happen again.

    1. Dear Valentina, Thank you for your wonderful feedback. I know that this book is not the kind of book you would pick and choose in a bookshop at your age. This is the reason why I love promoting and investigating issues with you (in class) that otherwise you would never consider. You are young and you can make a difference, but to do so, you need to be informed of things that should interest any human being. This is the reason why I wanted to deal with difficult reality of child soldiers.

  3. When I first started reading this book I didn’t know what to expect. I had heard before of children recruited in armys used for active combat, but I wasn’t aware of the hell they have to go through. The book shows how once the children are recruited either by the army or by the rebels their only purpose in life becomes to kill. And that becomes their everyday reality, a cruel reality that they have to put up with. Once separated from their familys, children are trained and transformed into killing maschines. They’re emotionally and psycologically manipulated until they lose touch with reality and themselves because they don’t see a way out from the hell that they’re obliged to live in. Children are constantly brainwashed and drugged to the point that they don’t know what they’re doing anymore. They just seek any form of confortation thay can get and therefore like Ismael says, even the commanders begin to represent paternal figures to them. This way they take advantage of their fragility and play with their emotions until children entirely lose clear conscience of what is actually happening around them. Children start getting used to killing and feel powerful and protected by those people who start looking like family to them. Ismael explains in several interviews that children get attached to the commanders and to their groups, to the point that they feel like they owe them their lives and therefore they feel as if they are supposed to be loyal and faithful to them.
    These children are obliged to live in a nightmare that seems endless, but if we intervene and start doing something to guarantee to every child in the world the right to live their childhood freely, as well as it should be, maybe these horrors someday will come to an end. Nobody says that it is an easy goal to achieve, especially if every year more and more children are being recruited, but we have the moral obbligation to start taking action in order to safeguard children, because nobody has the right to expose them to such suffering and horrors. There are organizations like the UNICEF that are taking measures to protect children’s rights and drag them away from the war. The process of rehabilitation is challenging, but all that these children need is someone who shows compassion and someone who does not give up on them.
    It is hard to perceive the reality that children have to face especially for people like us in countries where our rights are not violated. So we definitely must consider ourselves lucky to be born and live in a place where we have the right to live our childhood, the right to go to school and the freedom to decide for ourselves and our future without being conditioned by nobody. I highly recommend reading this book because it brings to our sight realitys that go beyond what we’re used to and it makes us self-aware of what is happenig in the world.

    1. I really appreciate the fact that in your feedback you focussed on the psychological impact the child soldiers are subjected to and on the turmoil they are plunged into. Though it is a bleak reality caused by the local governments and politics, this does not mean that international politics should remain passive. This is the reason why knowing about the appalling experience child soldiers are subjected to is mandatory.

  4. When I was about ten years old and I was at primary school, I new classmate became part of our class. I was very happy because he was Columbian and since I had just arrived from Peru, I felt really like him, because we were both South Americans and mostly because we both speak the same language, Spanish. I was really contended, I finally found someone to talk to. In fact we talked a lot, but it was not as I expected. When we conversed about the reason why we had left our country I said that my dad was Italian and that my parents had take the decision to live here and something similar while he told me things that at that time shocked me. I do not know how but he and his family left Colombia because of the civil war. I do not want to say that I did not know about the the existence of the war but I did not imagine that a kid like me could live what he lived, in a country that I thought it was like mine. He recounted me that he had seen a considerable number of dead people lying in the streets, that he saw people running around with guns and shooting each other and that his older bother, who had two or three more that he, possessed a weapon and that some times he had shot someone. I think that for him everything was normal or at least it was nothing horrible, as conversely it was for me. I do not know if his experience was like the Ishmael one, I think that only living that horror you can truly understand. The reason why he wrote this story, his story, was exactly to explain us what happen in that part of the world. He has shared and narrated memories, moments and feelings about the war in his country and his experience like a child soldier.
    I do not believe that either of them could be able to forget the past and what they have seen, but I think that is fundamental to inform the world about this kinds of crimes that is necessary to stop. We have to stop this beings, that can not even be called people, that force or do brainwash to children and send them to death. UNICEF has saved Ishmael and it’s only thanks to this organization if his life has become better and if he now could have a serene life, I think that we can make the difference.

    1. Thank you for sharing this experience of yours Amanda. I feel sorry for the guy who had to go through that terribel ordeal. What about the memoir? Did you appreciate reading it? Would you recommend it? Why (not)?

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