Most of us go through difficult stages in our lives. Some of these difficult periods transform and enlighten our views of life. The devastating effects of family problems and civil war in my country helped me appreciate my existence and that of others in a positive way. I was born in Sierra Leone West Africa in 1980. During my early childhood years, my country was peaceful and I lived a satisfying life that was full of love, friendliness and happiness. Between the ages of nine and eleven, everything changed. My father and mother separated and a civil war began. When I was thirteen, the civil war that had already been going on for several years, came to my town and changed my life. During that period of chaos, I lost my family and wandered about alone. I had no inclination where I was heading, but the determination to find safety. After months of traveling, sleeping in the bush, and having to eat and drink what the forest provided, I arrived at a village that was occupied by the Sierra Leone Military Forces.

Since I was in pursuit of food and protection, I felt that it was safe to be with the military who provided me with nourishment and a place to sleep. As a result of what I thought was generosity, my interaction with the soldiers grew daily. The misery that almost cost me my life awaited just around the corner. After months of staying with soldiers, rebels started attacking the village. The soldiers fought back day after day. They lost most of their men in battle. As a result of fewer soldiers, the rebels came closer and surrounded the village. The military was in need of people to increase their number. All the boys in the village were asked to join the army. There was no way out. If I left the village, I would get killed by the rebels who would think I was a spy. On the other hand, if I stayed in the village and refused to join the army, I wouldn’t be given food and would eventually be thrown out, which was as good as being dead.

I was briefly trained in warfare and unwillingly became a child soldier. I will never forget being in the battlefield for the first time. At first I couldn’t pull the trigger. I was lying almost numb in ambush watching kids my age being shot at and killed. The sight of blood and the crying of people in pain, triggered something inside me that I didn’t understand, and made me lose compassion for others. I lost my real being. I lost my sense of self. After crossing that line, I was not a normal kid. I was a traumatized kid. I became completely unaware of the dangerous and crooked road that my life was taking.

In fact, most of the horrible events that I went through didn’t affect me until after I was taken out of the army and put into a psycho-social therapy home years later. I had been demilitarized as part as an effort by UNICEF and entered into a rehabilitation center for former child soldiers. At the psycho-social home, I began to experience trauma of another kind. I had sleepless nights. Every night I recalled the last day that my childhood was stripped away from me. I felt I had no reason for staying alive since I was the only one left in my family. I had no peace. My soul felt corrupted and I was lost in my own thoughts blaming myself for what had happened to me.

The only times that I found peace with myself was when I began writing song lyrics about the good times before the war. Through these writings, as well as the help of the staff in my psycho-social therapy home, I was able to successfully overcome my trauma. I once again rediscovered my childhood that was almost lost. I realize that I had a great determination to survive. Also my songs gave me hope. Fifty percent of the kids did not overcome their trauma.

Fortunately, I was reunited with my uncle and started school again in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. At this point in my life, I developed a sense of appreciation for everything around me and became only interested in the positive outcome of every situation. I came to the conclusion that I survived the war for a reason. That reason was to fight for peace so that the tragedy that befell me would not continue to affect the lives of other children in my country and around the world.

In 1996, I was chosen to represent the youth of my country at a “Young Voices” conference at the United Nations. I went back home after the conference and started working with the youth of my country. First I tried to enlighten them about their rights, then, urged the government to make sure that the youth would have a voice in the decisions made for them. But the campaign didn’t last long because the civil war escalated to the city. All educational, governmental and productive institutions were brought to a halt. It became very dangerous for anti-war people to live in the city. With the help of Laura Simms, a facilitator who I met at the conference, I was able to leave my country. She brought me to the United States so that I would have a better education. I am currently living with her as my new mother in New York.

One of the lessons that I learned from the tragic events of my life, summed up in a parable of my country, is that “once there is life, there is hope for a better future.” I think that every human being should be aware of the possibility of change. I strongly believe all humans are positive beings and are capable of thinking positively. It is just that life brings us different roads to travel, in order to find sanity in ourselves. It is possible for everyone to arrive at this hopeful conclusion.

If we think of the future positively, our actions towards that future will be positive. Everyone can make a difference. You don’t have to be rich or famous to do so. If one person can change the way they interact with other people, no matter who they are or where they are from, that makes a big difference. It seems to me, one of the main problems of our last century was the inability of individuals to get along with each other.

Back home my elders said, “Sometimes good comes from bad.” It is true. It is also true that good come from good.

The Lord Is My Shepard
by Ishmael Beah

I give thanks to God for always helping me to see the brighter side of everything. Even in the darkest time of my life when I almost gave up and thought life was over. God made me realize and see that I have a reason to live a life guided by him. The following are a number of verses which I have written from a longer song:

The lord is my Shepard
I can never be lost
Even when this daily life
comes to the worst
I keep his trust in my heart
Through all the darkest hours
I am protected by his powers
God bless me everyday
even when I fail
in this day to day struggle
he helps me pave my way
out of the troubles I face
making my fears less
so when I am stressed
I take it as another temptation
to test my motivation
But I fight this competition
between evil and good
every day and every night
I sometimes am deceived
intense struggles I perceived
raising my praises
cause my beliefs get stronger
so I no longer
live like the Pharisees, you heard
The God’s marvelous display
keeps me safe
even when I am lost in this place
do not feel disgrace
Because his grace is always with me
once blind, now I see.