It seems almost surreal...playing soccer at night, in an African field, lit only by a dizzying array of stars.. but that's what Ibrahim Alex Bangura loves to do. He also loves listening to Whitney Houston. He is like any other 16-year-old except for the fact that on November 16, 1999 he thought he would be at the United Nations Building in New York City accepting an award for his work spreading the message of peace throughout his country. Alex, as his friends call him, was the winner in the Performing Arts category of the Global Youth Peace & Tolerance Awards. This ceremony honored youth who apply their creative talents to the cause of peace.
It was very sad for Alex and all those who helped to organize the awards ceremony that Alex was not given a visa by the US Embassy so that he could attend the United Nations Awards Ceremony which was honoring him and his work with the children of Sierra Leone.
Since Sierra Leone does not have an American embassy, Alex had to walk to Conakry, Guinea to ask for the visa. And it was the staff at the embassy in Conakry, Guinea that refused to issue the visa, even after then-Vice President Al Gore called on behalf of Alex.
Alex is a leading member of the Peace Links Musical Youths, a group of young Sierra Leoneans who write and perform music that spreads a message of peace, tolerance and reconciliation throughout their country.
Sierra Leone, the poorest country in Africa, has been torn apart by a seven-year civil war. When Alex joined Peace Links at age 10, he immediately demonstrated an ability to identify the causes of the problems facing his country and offer creative ideas for projects. In 1993 he was selected by his peers to attend a Peaceways conference on developing leadership and conflict resolution skills and learning about the United Nations and human rights. Since then he has helped UNICEF to distribute oral rehydration packets during cholera outbreaks, worked on environmental clean-up projects and built shelters. He has led workshops on tolerance, and educated children about the United Nations' goals for world peace and about the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
When reached by his neighbor's phone in Sierra Leone, Alex told MY HERO that NELSON MANDELA is his hero because "he made tireless sacrifices to bring equality among South Africans." His daily inspiration is supplied by Vandy Kanyako Jr., one of the founding members of Peace Links. "He is a good friend and keeps me very busy!" he said, laughing.
Alex's current focus is on the rehabilitation of thousands of children who were kidnapped and trained to be soldiers. They came to believe that life has no meaning. Peace Links teaches these children songs about peace and tolerance in an effort to change their value system and redirect their lives. Alex would also like to foster an attitude of tolerance within society so that the former child soldiers can live among their countrymen free of discrimination and hatred.
Alex's family is poor. He walks long distances to meetings, workshops and concerts when transportation is unavailable. He often goes without meals in order to get to places on time and because food is scarce in Sierra Leone. Yet he always makes sure to finish his many hours of homework. His scholastic record is excellent and he hopes to attend college someday.
The catchy music of Alex's band got the attention of the world leaders attending the 2001 GLOBAL HAGUE APPEAL FOR PEACE CONFERENCE in the Netherlands. Alex felt the conference was important not only for what his group accomplished but because it was well-attended by the media. He hopes that the journalists who were present will tell the rest of the world about the conference, and encourage others to get involved in creating solutions for peace, saying, "Pay more attention to the causes of children worldwide. Help the children suffering from the injustices of hunger, sickness and the brutality of war. I also want everyone to know that Sierra Leone was a peaceful, friendly and beautiful place to live before the war. We are working very hard to make it that way again."