Maggie recently posted a powerful and moving interview with Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier and author of A Long Way Gone. I've mooched it from her.
Rehabilitating and repatriating child soldiers is a long, difficult process for everyone involved. The viciousness of the type of recent armed conflict that exists in Sierra Leone, Liberia and other parts of West Africa (as well as Burma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sri Lanka) is something few of us have witnessed, and therefore is little understood by the Western world. Many people don't realize that child soldiers are drugged and have their lives threatened in the indoctrination into rebel groups. Many children forcefully recruited are orphaned, others kidnapped from their families.
I am sure it took a lot of courage for Ishmael Beah to publish a book about his experiences, and it is heartwarming and empowering to see that he was able to move on from that part of his life and now works to raise awareness of the atrocities that occurred in Sierra Leone and other parts of West Africa. I look forward to reading this book in the near future.
For those who have read A Long Way Gone and developed an interest in the subject, another non-fiction book I would recommend (although a bit more dense), is The Impact of War on Children by Graca Machel. Included is a chapter on child soldiers. I read this book while completing my Master's thesis in 2002, yet one quote has haunted me ever since, a description of a group of child soldiers leading an attack after they had been drugged:
"There were a lot of boys rushing into the field, screaming like banshees. It seemed like they were immortal, or impervious or something, because we shot at them but they just kept coming." (p.13)