Ishmael was just 12 years old when the Sierra Leone armed conflict was in full swing. He recalls a simple and happy childhood, one filled with family and normalcy.
One day, he took a trip with friends to participate in a talent show a couple of miles down the road from their town. While gone, their town was attacked. Upon returning home, the boys were faced with an amount of devastation no child should experience.
“We saw men carrying their dead children in their arms. I saw a man cry for the first time in my life…We decided that we can’t go back home anymore and decided to wait. Hopefully to see our families come through, but they didn’t come.”
Ishmael and his friends spent the next year traveling from village to village looking for food, water, and shelter. Ishmael eventually learned of his family’s whereabouts and went to meet them. Upon his arrival at the village, he saw the town aflame, his family gone. Ishmael now knew his family was gone for good and lost all hope.
The boys found a nearby village run by government soldiers. They received food, water, shelter, and were able to return to a normal life…for a while. Eventually, they were told that, in order to stay at the village, they must fight. When some tried to leave, they were killed.
So Ishmael fought.
“First, you know, you get your own weapon and everything and the magazines and the bullets, and then you give you drugs. I was descending into their hell so quickly, and I just started shooting and that’s what I did for over two years basically. Whoever the commander said, ‘This guy is the enemy,’ there were no questions asked. There was no second guessing because when you asked a question and you say, ‘Why?’ they’ll shoot you right away.” Ishmael had been turned into a killer by taking away everything he knew.
Two years after being forced into fighting, Ishmael was saved by workers at the United Nations. Now, he advocates for children affected by war. You can read his full story here.