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Pulitzer Center Update April 11, 2008

Former Child Soldier Shares Experiences


By Emily McGinnis

Originally published in Georgetown University's The Hoya

A former child soldier shared his experiences of the Liberian civil war during a panel discussion on child soldiers Wednesday in the Walsh Building.

Eric Gibson made the decision to leave home when he was 16 years old. "The rebels had 80 percent of the country and the resources," he said. "I said to my mom, 'I have to leave, I have to go behind rebel lines.' What I didn't know was that you go behind rebel lines, it's like you're going into hell and you can't go back to heaven."

Gibson said he was shot and stabbed during the conflict and witnessed numerous murders.

Many former child soldiers flee to the United States, but that does not guarantee great improvements in their quality of life, said Ruthie Ackerman, a Pulitzer Center reporter who has studied Liberian youth in the wake of the war.

"Many refugees came to America thinking this is the land of opportunity, and then they came here and there really isn't any counseling or support," Ackerman said.

Staten Island has the largest concentration of former combatants in the United States, according to Jon Sawyer, founder and executive director of the Pulitzer Center.

"What I'm here to say is [that] it's a global problem, not isolated. … It will come back and affect our own communities," Ackerman said. "What I've found is a lot of the issues I've found in Liberia, I've also found in Staten Island."

The Georgetown University chapter of Amnesty International, the School of Foreign Service, the African studies department and the Program on Justice and Peace sponsored the event.