Ishmael Beah with former children associated to armed groups in Central African Republic for UNICEF, 2012. © UNICEF/Brian Sokol.
Ishmael Beah, best-selling author and human rights spokesperson, was appointed UNICEF’s first Advocate for Children Affected by War on 20 November 2007.
In accepting the position Mr. Beah said, “… for me it’s just a way to give me more strength to continue doing what I’ve already embarked on, what I’ve dedicated my life to doing – which is to make sure that what happened to me doesn’t continue to happen to other children around the world.” He pledged to give a voice and hope to children whose lives have been scarred by violence.
In 1991, the outbreak of a brutal civil war in Sierra Leone upended the lives of millions. Ishmael Beah’s parents and two brothers were killed and he was forcibly recruited into the war at age 13. After two years, with UNICEF help, he was removed from the army and placed in a rehabilitation home in Freetown.
At the 1996 United Nations presentation of the Machel Report on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, Mr. Beah spoke about the devastating effects of war on children in his country. In May 2000, at the UN Special Session on Children he served on a panel entitled ‘Reclaiming Our Children: The UN Responds to the Plight of the Child Soldier’. The panel included then Secretary General Kofi Annan and UN agency heads.
Mr. Beah continues his advocacy to help change the course for the thousands of children still trapped in wars. He is a member of the Human Rights Watch Children’s Rights Division Advisory Committee and has testified before the United States Congress.
In 2007, he founded the Ishmael Beah foundation dedicated to helping children affected by war reintegrate into society and improve their lives. By 2009, 50 student from different regions in Sierra Leone, West Africa received grants to continue and improve on their education. In 2011, the Ishmael Beah Foundation opened its first college chapter at Oberlin College. To date, the Ishmael Beah Foundation has helped more than 150 children.
In 2008, he co-founded the Network of Young People Affected by War (NYPAW) with a mission to raise awareness of the plight of children in conflict zones, advocate for an end to hostilities and provide role models for children who are currently struggling to recover from war.
Ishmael Beah is also the Vice-Chair of Narrative 4, a global organization headed up by some of the world’s most renowned and influential authors, artists and community leaders who have come together to promote empathy through the exchange of stories.