An International Roundtable: Sierra Leone, Rehabilitating Child Soldiers, and the Power of Radio

Reserved and confident, Alusine Kamara spoke gracefully, his words at once somehow fluid yet heavy to the students listening: “We kept the boys and girls in the centers until they remembered how to be children again. We could tell who the real child soldiers were because many of them, though only nine years old, could already disassemble a machine gun.”  For most of the students in the room, the eleven year civil war in Sierra Leone (from 1991-2002) felt worlds away, but suddenly the stories of the child soldiers, many of them younger than the freshmen listening on, were real, tangible, and shocking. Kamara, a native of Sierra Leone who immigrated to the United States eight years ago, led a child soldier rehabilitation center following the war where he helped hundreds of children.  One of his young wards was no other than Ishmael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone and Radiance of Tomorrow.

Kamara, now a resident of Boston, traveled to Dublin school thanks to the organizing efforts of Betsy Small-Campbell, mother of sophomore Lillian Campbell. Small-Campbell was a Peace Corp volunteer in Sierra Leone prior to the outbreak of the civil war and later Director of Development and Programs of War Child USA, a non-profit dedicated to funding the rehabilitation of many of the Sierra Leonean children who lost their childhoods due to the war. She stood, smiling, as Kamara walked naturally across the stage, talking about his love for his home country.             To her left stood Topher Hamblett, fellow Peace Core alum who was also in Sierra Leone prior to the war. Hamblett presented on his current efforts in the country and his non-profit, The Foundation for West Africa, which aims to grow the national radio programs. The Foundation for West Africa recently released the documentary, “Leh Wi Tok: When Radio Gives Voice to the Voiceless,” a lucid examination of the influence open radio can have to rehabilitate and rebuild a country recently in mourning.

 The night’s roundtable presentation was proof of how seemingly fluid, and important, the bonds which tie us together can be. The three speakers were united in their passion for peace and growth in Sierra Leone.  True, the topic at hand was often morose, but the larger message was on the resilience of the Sierra Leonean people and humanity’s outstanding capacity for forgiveness. 

 Perhaps sophomore Lillian Campbell, who traveled to Sierra Leone this past November with her mother, sums it up best: “I am still processing, but it felt like the second you stepped into the country, you were surrounded by community. You could tell something terrible happened there—but you could also feel the beautiful,  too. ”