On April 11, Holland & Knight hosted New York Times bestselling author and child advocate Ishmael Beah for a presentation and booksigning in its New York office. In his heartrending, courageously honest autobiography A Long Way Gone, Mr. Beah recounts how his idyllic childhood was obliterated when civil war broke out in Sierra Leone, and bands of soldiers roamed the countryside, ruthlessly killing families and destroying entire villages. At age 12, Ishmael found himself orphaned and homeless, wandering with his friends in the bush and trying to stay alive. Within months, he was abducted by a ruthless army commander who, like many in this war, impressed children into service, drugging them with powerful amphetamines and teaching them to kill or be killed. After two years of gruesome fighting, much of it against boys his own age, Ishmael was miraculously rescued and rehabilitated by UNICEF. He subsequently, miraculously, relocated to New York City at age 17 as the foster son of an American woman, Laura Simms.
An acclaimed international storyteller and humanitarian activist herself, Laura Simms had been working closely with Holland & Knight's Opening Doors for Children program in New York City for years when in the mid 1990s she began telling the firm about her boy soldier "son." Thanks to this connection, the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation began taking an active interest in Ishmael Beah.
Today, at 26, Ishmael Beah is a prominent advocate against the recruitment and use of child soldiers. With the pro bono assistance of Holland & Knight, he has formed the Ishmael Beah Foundation, whose mission is to support rehabilitation and reintegration of boy soldiers from war-torn countries throughout the world. He continues to speak tirelessly on behalf of child soldiers worldwide and works for the Human Rights Watch Children's Division Advisory Committee.
As Sebastian Junger writes, "A Long Way Gone is one of the most important war stories of our generation... We ignore his message at our peril."
For more information on the Holland & Knight Charitable Founddation, visit http://foundation.hklaw.com.