|Kimmie with children of the Waterloo refugee camp |
At age 8 Kimmie Weeks was a normal boy living in Liberia, West Africa.
By age 9, in 1989, he was in the midst of his country's brutal civil war. He saw friends and family killed, others taken up as child soldiers, and even more die or become greatly afflicted by famine and disease.
By age 10 he was one of them, nearly dying from illness and malnutrition. Facing starvation, his family had been forced to survive off of wild leaves and roots and to drink contaminated waters after the national water supply was shut off. Likewise, disease ravaged his gaunt body. In fact, the men of his village had already begun to dig a shallow grave for him.
To their surprise, however, he survived. But not before making a vow that if he made it through the war, through his time at the refugee camp, he would spend the rest of his life working for the rights of children and ensuring that no child would have to face the same plight that he and so many other children had experienced. He vowed that no child would ever have to live with the disease, poverty, and malnutrition that had nearly killed him.
At age 13 he began to make good on his promise. Kimmie founded Voice of the Future, Liberia's first child rights advocacy and humanitarian organization run by young people.
At age 15 he launched the Children's Disarmament Campaign, working with UNICEF to help end Liberia's civil war and to disarm the estimated 15,000-20,000 child soldiers caught in the midst of it.
At age 16, when the disarmament occurred, Kimmie then created Liberia's first children's information service, The Children's Bureau of Information, which "worked to reintegrate former child soldiers into the community."
By then, the war had taken the lives of 10% of Liberia's population, yet Kimmie somehow found hope to press forward in his mission.
In less than one decade, Kimmie had been displaced from his home, forced to leave school, lost family and friends to civil war, nearly died of disease and starvation, and yet had also rebounded to found 3 powerful projects aimed at restoring hope. This is more than most people experience or accomplish in a lifetime, let alone before reaching adulthood.
And then things changed for Kimmie yet again.
At the age of 17 he published a controversial report he had written on the Liberian army's training of child soldiers. He didn't realize the impact it would have on his life until armed soldiers came looking for him. Thinking quickly, he pretended he was someone else, and soon began hiding by staying at various friend's homes for a few days at a time each. But the military was never far behind and soon it became clear that he needed to flee his beloved homeland. Through the help of a friend in government, he escaped the country using a false name and sought political assign asylum in the U.S., where two of his siblings lived.
Adjusting to life in the U.S. was not easy, as he was far away from the family and friends he loved so dearly, particularly his mother. Coupled with this, he was placed directly into the 12th grade, although he had not attended school in nearly a decade because of the civil war.
Nevertheless, despite his personal struggles, he continued his mission to advocate for the rights of children around the world. In doing so, he soon realized, however, that most American students did not know about the situation or conditions in Liberia, nor how to help. Having already created 3 successful projects back home, In 2002 Kimmie founded the
Youth Action Network, "a network of young people dedicated to helping children affected by war or living in difficult circumstances" and began fundraising with interested peers for other humanitarian organizations.
|Kimmie speaks with former combatants |
Three years later he decided to take their commitment to helping youth a step further by shifting their focus from fundraising for others, to becoming an active humanitarian body themselves!
Kimmie wanted to prove that young people could lead an international organization. YAI established their first offices in Liberia, Ghana and Sierra Leone. Since then, they've expanded into Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda. Within these nations the YAI runs various programs that help empower thousands of people by providing new opportunities and services, and by developing partnerships between Africa and western nations. Among their undertakings are programs that are helping build schools and orphanages in Liberia, rebuilding playgrounds, running a center for female empowerment in Sierra Leone, and providing emergency medical care in Uganda.
Yet these actions and topics, particularly those which go against the current or former status quo in these nations (such as that of female land ownership in Sierra Leone), are sometimes seen as a threat by those in power. But Kimmie, who for years was obligated to be escorted by scores of bodyguards while in Africa, is willing to take the risk. He hopes to have YAI present in every post-war African nation within five years.
A graduate of Amherst College, he also serves as the Director of Planning for the International Coalition for Children and the Environment, is on the board of several non-profit organizations, and tours internationally as a motivational speaker.
At 25 years old, Kimmie has accomplished more than most people can even dream of, and the world is taking notice. Before his exile, Weeks was honored for his efforts as a UNICEF Young Ambassador at the Goodwill Games. BBC recently released the documentary Kimmie Weeks: Back to the Front, and he is also featured in the new book Peace in Our Lifetime as a global peacemaker, along with his own personal heroes, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Most recently, Kimmie received the prestigious 2007 "Golden Brick" through the BR!CK Awards, the first televised award show celebrating young people making our world better.
|With Liberian President Sirleaf.|
Despite everything he is involved in, and everything he has achieved already, Kimmie still feels there is much more for him to accomplish. For Kimmie Weeks, the sky's the limit. In fact, in 12 years he plans to run for president of Liberia.