Tuesday, February 26, 2008

kimmie weeks

tonight i attended a captivating lecture given by Amherst alum Kimmie Weeks '05. Weeks was the 2007 recipient of the Golden Brick Award at age 25 dubbed "the oscar of youth service awards". Weeks grew up in Liberia. Weeks remembers watching news coverage of the Ethiopian turmoil on his television and being awestruck by the lack of control in Ethiopia; never would he have expected these conditions in his own country.

when the civil war broke out in 1989 (which lasted through 1996) Weeks vividly recalls the country's rapid decline; first schools closing, then food stores, then electricity, water, hospitals. one day soldiers showed up to his home and told him and his mother that their home was now government property. Weeks and his mother were forced to leave his home with nothing but the clothes they were wearing and join the tens of thousands of other Liberians wandering the streets that day searching for shelter.

Weeks and his mother walked from building to building for shelter and were finally allowed into a room housing sixteen families. Weeks' mother placed a cloth on the ground which they both lived on for six months. at one point Weeks became very ill. while his mother was out searching for water to boil (they subsisted on boiled water that served to deceive their stomachs from starvation) a group of men came and took his pulse. these men had not received any sort of medical training but were eager to dispense of the dead in the living quarters as space was very limited. the men mistook him for dead and when his mother came back to their shelter he was gone. she knew he was alive and searched for him in countless piles of dead bodies scattered throughout the city. finally, she found him wrapped in the cloth they had lived on for months. Weeks recalls waking up to his mother's face with a look of terror; he was completely unaware of the fact that he was lying in a pile of dead bodies.

in 1998 Weeks published a detailed description of Liberian training of child soldiers. the Liberian government attempted to assassinate him several times forcing him into exile in the United States. upon his arrival in the USA he completed his last year of high school and did a post graduate year before attending Amherst College. he earned a BA in history and political science from Amherst in 2005 and is currently enrolled in graduate school at UPenn. Weeks co-founded Voice of the Future Inc. (VOF), founded and chaired the Children’s Disarmament Campaign at age 15, and established The Children’s Bureau of Information, which aired fifteen minute weekly radio programs aiming to reintegrate child soldiers into the Liberian community...to name a few notable accomplishments.

he is an extremely engaging and comedic speaker as well as a true optimist full of concrete ideas of how we can help end poverty in struggling countries.

this past semester i began working with Toms Shoes, an organization that gives a pair of shoes to children in third world countries for every pair that is sold. i'm in the process of organizing a benefit concert for their cause. it will take place April 5th. i originally attended this lecture to fulfill a requirement for one of my courses but left eager to further my involvement in youth service causes.

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