At the age of twelve, Ishmael Beah wields an AK-47 for the first time. For almost four years, the Sierra Leonean government army forces Ishmael into violent conflict under the compulsory influence of drugs. Suffering from severe psychological damage due to the trauma of war and the habitual use of drugs as a child, UNICEF rescues him and places him into intensive rehabilitation. Ishmael successfully recovers both physically and psychologically through displays of genuine benevolence, learning to self-create and establish an authentic identity on the foundations of the hardships overcame and renewing his faith in the innate unselfishness of people.
After the adversities he faced, Beah is living proof of his sentiment: “Children have the resilience to outlive their sufferings, if given a chance” (Beah, 169). According to David Miller and Randall MacIntosh, children can potentially, “bounce back, recover, or successfully adapt in the face of obstacles and adversity.” They suggest that the development of this “resilience” requires exposure risk and protective factors: “Risk factors may increase the likelihood of psychopathology in an individual…Protective factors on the other hand enable the individual to counter the effects of risk factors,” (Miller, MacIntosh 1999). Ishmael’s resilience stems from his protective factors, namely his companions, music, and surrogate paternal and maternal influence, whereas his risk factors include war trauma, the use of addictive drugs, and disjointedness from family.
While visiting a neighboring village in 1993, Ishmael and his brother, Junior, become both refugees and orphans after the RUF razes their home village of Mogbwemo to the ground. At such a young age and without any prior experience with the war aside from fleeting rumors, Ishmael is suddenly cast into its depths. News of the attack on his home village leaves him coping with his first sense of disconnectedness from family and fear for himself.
Ishmael clings to Junior as...