Former child soldier from Sierra Leone speaks to Ballard High Sc - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Former child soldier from Sierra Leone speaks to Ballard High School seniors

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A former child soldier spoke at Ballard High School Wednesday morning, sharing the horrific events of his childhood with the students there, and helping them to understand the plight of other kids who are forced into war.

There are about 300,000 kid soldiers around the world and Ishmael Beah used to be one of them.

On the surface it may seem like a group of high school kids in Louisville would have nothing in common with a former child soldier from Sierra Leone -- but as Ishmael Beah shared his story, the group of Ballard High seniors in attendance connected to him.

"I was dragged into the war to fight as a kid, when I was 13," Beah said.

It made an impact on Donnivien Bertram, a Ballard High School senior.

"Today was an eye opener!" he said.

A child soldier for the government's army during the Sierra Leone Civil War, Beah became addicted to drugs, learned to use an AK-47 with precision and was forced to kill or be killed.

Even with his entire family -- his mother, father, and two brothers -- gone, Beah found a reason to live.

"One was trying to find my family, and when they were killed, it was trying to help my friends, other friends who were drafted into the fighting," Beah said. "We lived for each other -- to protect each other -- and then when I lived through it, it was, 'How am I going to live for them?'"

He said he found a strength to not just survive, but to live his life to help others.

Beah wrote a book called, "A Long Way Gone."

And Bertram says the book changed his life -- and how he feels about joining the Army.

"I want to help defend my country -- which I still would love to do -- but I want to do it the right way," he said. "I don't want to go in and shoot people, but we can also do it verbally. We don't have to do it with violence."

Beah also hopes to encourage people going through tough situations.

"If something happens in your life, don't look at it like it's so horrible," he said. "If you survive it, it means you have certain intelligence and certain strengths. What will you do with it?"

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