Louisville students share African refugee experience with famed novelist


by Michelle Arnold


Posted on May 2, 2012 at 6:23 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 2 at 6:42 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- In Mr. Wade's classroom at Atherton High School, Somalian war refugee students got the rare chance to connect with a man who has a story not so different from their own. 

Author Ishmael Beah skyped with Atherton students in the English as a Second Language program on Wednesday.

“The whole idea of blood diamond, the word of it, something that I heard when I was little and going to war. I understood what it meant,” said Beah.

It is the greed for blood diamonds that spurred one of Africa's most brutal civil wars.

In his book, "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier”, Beah writes about the tragedies he experienced as a boy soldier forced to commit terrible acts by the government army.

“I had to relive the experiences again," said Beah.  "I had to go back into those experiences and that was absolutely difficult."

Most of the students are war refugees from Somalia who know the types of atrocities Beah faced.

“Either our parents died or we were affected by war. All of us lost a part of us that no one can ever understand.  Reading this book it's amazing to understand that there's someone out there that knows what we have been through,” said student Martha Sengryunvi.

Martha, a student from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is used to her peers asking her why she would leave her home.

“They were killing people. It's either you stay and die or you come here and be free,” said Sengryunvi.

The civil war forced her and her family to flee her country and escape to Zambia by foot. 

“Some people can't even walk from here to Mcdonald’s across the street, but it took us like at least a month just to walk in the jungle with no food and no water,” said Sengryunvi.

It's Beah's story of survival that gives these students the confidence to realize their potential. 

“I want to prove to everybody out there that thought that I would never be nothing. I want to prove them wrong that I know I'll be something,” said Sengryunvi.

One of the most interesting things about Mr. Wade's classroom is that the majority of the students in his class are Somalian war refugees that grew up together in the same Kenyan refugee camp.