Mohamed Sidibay was born into the war-ridden country of Sierra Leone, which was engulfed in a brutal civil war from 1991 to 2002. Although he has been through difficult experiences in his past, he does not view himself that different from anyone else. He graciously shared his story during a recent meeting of the Child Labor Coalition, which NCL co-chairs and coordinates.
In 1995, rebels from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) killed his parents and his two older siblings in his home when he was 3 years old, during the midst of the civil war. He was then abducted as a child soldier into the rebel army that was responsible for killing his family and robbing him of his childhood. For the next seven years, he was equipped with a gun and forced to kill on behalf of the RUF. Before the meeting of child labor advocates, Sidibay recalled being mentally and physically stuck while longing to escape. He wanted to run away and go home, although he didn’t know where “home” was. But, if he ran away, he knew there was a possibility that his captors would find him and kill him—captors who, on the other hand, could decide to kill him at any moment even if he stayed.
By the time the war ended in 2002, Sidibay was free but had not known any other life than that of following commands from murderers under the fear of being killed. Adjusting to civilian life was not easy for Sidibay, who was shunned and rejected by those in his community for what he had been forced to do. Although readjustment posed new kinds of challenges, Sidibay was determined to create a new life for himself. He didn’t want to erase his past, but to overcome it. “Our past and present make us who were are, without our past, we are incomplete. And without our present, we don’t exist,” said Sidibay.
The Family Homes Movement rescued Sidibay when he was 9 years old. From then on, he was just shifted around from one organization to another. At the age of 13, Sidibay managed to come to America. All he had in his pocket was $40 and an iPod. As a student in America, Sidibay would look around the classroom and see only African American students, with a few exceptions. He was advised to try to get into more difficult classes. In his higher-level classes, Sidibay looked around and saw a classroom full of white students. This is when he realized the segregation of America’s school system. Having been deprived of an education for most of his early years, Sidibay understood the importance of education. This is why he now advocates for eliminating the disparity in education in America.
“It is my belief that if you give a man the world, that would can fall apart. But, if you give a man education, then he can rebuild that world,” said Sidibay. He hopes to use his education to give a voice to the voiceless – those fellow former and current child soldiers who cannot speak for themselves. Today, Sidibay is studying at George Washington University and is involved with the GW STAND chapter, an organization that works to “empower individuals and communities with the tools to prevent and stop genocide.”