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Teens reach out to youth hurt by war

CHESAPEAKE — In a few weeks from now there’ll be an ordinary looking package coming out of Chesapeake High School. Its mission, however, is anything but ordinary. It will be reaching out to those who have been victimized by war.

The inspiration: A simple book.

Last summer Chesapeake High English teacher Kristen Miller was brainstorming about a book list for her upcoming junior classes when she heard about the autobiography of Ishmael Beah.

Beah was just a child when civil war broke out in his homeland of Sierra Leone, Africa. Trying to escape the rebels, Beah became a pawn of his own government when he was captured and forced to become a child soldier at the age of 13.

Three years later he was rescued by UNICEF, but he was left with deep feelings of self-hate and betrayal. How he turned his young life of violence and hatred into a story of redemption is the basis of his award-winning autobiography, “A Long Way Gone.”

Students at Chesapeake were so captivated with Beah’s story that they have formed the “CHS Makes a Difference Movement,” whose first project is to raise money to send to Beah’s foundation, which funds educational opportunities for youth persecuted by war.

They’re doing it by selling a unique T-shirt, designed by classmate Brooke Galloway, which sports a slogan that sums up the essence of the teens’ movement.

The shirt, in the green and blue colors of the country, states: “My shirt made a difference in Sierra Leone. What did your shirt do?”

Money from the sales will be sent to Beah’s foundation, along with a T-shirt for the author.

“We wanted to make a difference,” Galloway said. “Not to say the book moved us but not doing anything.”

The first thing Miller’s class wanted to do after they read the book was to meet with Beah. However, with a $15,000 speaker’s fee, that prospect seemed impossible.

Then Miller learned that the author would be a guest lecturer at Ohio University in Athens in January, so a group went up not only to hear the author, but to meet with the man who had inspired them at a private reception. From that meeting the idea for the T-shirt fund-raiser took root.

“It was a really moving experience,” Galloway said about meeting Beah. “It was mind-boggling that he had gone through that and looked like any other person.” Classmate David Bickett thought such acts of violence were of another era.

“I thought it was a thing of the past,” Bickett said. “How much bad things happen in the world.”

The T-shirts are being sold through the Chesapeake Reading Club for $10. Orders may be made to Kristen Miller at the high school at (740) 867-5958 or kristen.miller@peake.k12.oh.us. Deadline for the orders is March 20.