A Long Way Gone

Chapter Sixteen: Describe the children’s initial response to rehabilitation. Given the chance, would you work with children in this rehabilitative setting? Why or why not?


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Beah becomes frustrated at UNICEF’s Benin Home. “It was infuriating to be told what to do by civilians,” he says, adding “A few days earlier, we could have decided whether they would live or die.” The dramatic contrast between his place in a military structure and his new life is irreconcilable. On the whole, the boys keep up an air of indifference to the medical and relief workers who attempt to care for them. They suffer drug withdrawals that lead them to steal medicine from the infirmary and reduce them to powder, but the drugs do not have the desired effect. The boys’ violence is barely contained, sometimes spilling out into the neighborhood and often directed by the boys against one another.

The boys undertake a silent protest by dragging their mattresses outside each night to sleep in the open. Each day, the UNICEF workers return their mattresses to their bed frames; then the boys drag them outside again. One night it rains and the mattresses are left out in the sun to dry. When the boys ask why their mattresses are not on their beds, the workers respond that they must wait until the mattresses are dry to bring them in.

When the boys hurt the UNICEF workers, the workers respond by smiling patiently and continuing their relief efforts. This frustrates the boys, who want the civilian workers to respect (or fear) them as dangerous soldiers. Beah’s migraines return with a vengeance. The boys decide to break the glass windows in the classrooms; Beah chooses to punch the windows with his fists and eventually manages to wound himself deeply enough to require a trip to the hospital. The nurse who treats him asks him his name, but Beah remains stubbornly silent. When he throws the glass of water she has given him across the room, shattering it, the nurse simply gives Beah a blanket and begins to sweep up the broken glass.

In answer to your last question, yes, I would work with these boys, and it would admittedly be the most difficult undertaking of my life.