I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with actor (The Good Lie), rap star (We Want Peace), former child soldier and award-winning peace activist Emmanuel Jal when he was in Winnipeg last year.
It was a warm spring morning and we opted to sit outside on a bench in front of a church, which proved to be quite hazardous. Anyone who knew Emmanuel stopped to say “Hi” and get his autograph. Finally when we were alone I took out my pen and paper and got down to business.
We talked about his experiences in the Congo, his struggles, and his new life here in Canada and I was again amazed at the resilience of the human spirit amongst all things that are horrid and evil.
Then I began to think: teens in Canada could never identify with what Emmanuel went through, but yet many have suffered abuse and neglect in their lives. What could Emmanuel say to them? If he had endured so much and rose above it all to became an advocator of peace, then perhaps he had something to share. So I asked him: What advice could you give to our youth when they're trying to rise above the challenges that are thrown at them day to day?
He used a very effective analogy: refining gold. “If you look at a piece of gold that is all polished and beautiful you may not know that in order for that gold to look like this, it had to go through intense heat and fire to be refined. It is like us. What difficulties we go through can make us stronger.”
I noticed as he told me this he placed more emphasis on the word can. Why? He said that many children have been victims, whether it is sexual abuse, domestic violence or something as horrid as being forced to be a child soldier. But, and he stressed this too, it is up to the individual to decide if they are going to take the step and embrace the courage it takes to conquer their past. He explained that there are many great people who have risen above their adversities. People like Nelson Mandela who had the great capacity to forgive and move forward.
That's exactly what Emmanuel Jal is doing. He’s moving forward - in a most awesome way - putting the past behind him, but using it as a tool to teach others about forgiveness and hope. And that, my dear readers, is pure gold.
My journey as an author, giving voice to child soldiers.