ISHMEAL ALFRED CHARLES
Ishmeal (Charles) is a survivor of Sierra Leone’s 11-year brutal civil war. In 1997, when he was just 14, his mother sent him to Kono District, in eastern Sierra Leone, to live with his father. At the time, Kono was considered the safest place to be in Sierra Leone, but the relative security was short- lived. The rebels soon retreated from Freetown and into Kono, killing and maiming indiscriminately. With nowhere else to go, Charles was captured by the rebels and forced to join them as a child soldier and taught how to use a gun. He was forced into service as a labourer to carry loads on his head whenever the rebels would go looting.
Charles fled with relatives to the Guinea border, where he spent almost five months living in the bush. When peace was eventually restored and Charles was able to return to Freetown, he had to repeat two levels of school as a result of missed education. He persevered, graduating from high school and earning a Diploma in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Sierra Leone. He has also earned a certificate in International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University. Based on his experiences, Charles became a strong youth advocate by developing programs for post conflict youths.
Charles is Healey International Relief Foundation’s Program Manager in Sierra Leone working with Caritas-Freetown. He currently leads 250 volunteers and 30 staff members with the joint HIRF/Caritas-Freetown “Ebola Awareness and Prevention Project” in 11 communities in the rural and Urban Western Districts of Sierra Leone. His passion for his job was driven by his past. Charles credits his personal determination and support from his mother who enabled him to overcome the many obstacles he faced.