Fourteen years ago, the world watched as a once prosperous and stable country of two million souls on the west coast of Africa deteriorated into anarchy, terror and war.
What the world does not know is the story of a 10-year-old boy whose response to this tragedy in Liberia has propelled him into the epicenter of international relief efforts for children.
His name is Kimmie Weeks.
His father was already gone, his mother his only source of strength and hope. With 250,000 people they fled their home, leaving all to the looters. “I remember walking with my mother down the street filled with people; we had nothing but the clothes on our backs: no bedding, no food, no medicine.”
Finding refuge in a school, the two of them claimed a few square feet in a room with 16 extended families. There they huddled—eating little, leaving rarely—for six months. “We went into the forest to find roots and leaves just to survive,” he said.
Although a cease fire followed, Kimmie—along with every other boy in the country—was soon pressured to pick up a rifle and join the battle. “It is a common sight the world over,” he said in a speech to college students. “Six hundred thousand children are today serving in some fighting force around the world.”
Kimmie resisted: and instead presented the United Nations peace keepers with a strange request. Give me a small U.N. monetary grant, he said; I have a plan to seek the release of these militarized children. The UN response? Negative.
He re-presented his request: help me help the children; and again they said no.
Sixteen times he made this proposition to the U.N. authorities and 16 times he was turned down.
Few things reveal the heart and soul of this remarkable young man like the string of denials—followed by one single success. On the 17th appeal, the answer was yes, and the little boy with the big idea launched his effort to carve a bit of peace from the mass of war that had disrupted the lives of his people.
Kimmie took the money and created an organization called “Peace for Kids.” He went from camp to camp, warlord to warlord, with this simple plea: let the children go home, let them return to family, let them go to school.
It was the beginning of a string of successes: with the soldiers, with the kids, and most of all, with the United Nations. Today, at age 22, he is a chief spokesman for child welfare. This month he is a centerpiece in a major U.N. photo exhibition on world peace makers. It is entitled “Building a Culture of Peace for the Children of the World.” Kimmie also announced that later this year he will tour countries around the world where children are being used in battle.
Even in the midst of the turmoil that overtook his teenage, Kimmie dreamed of his own education in the United States. He had his eye on Georgetown University in Washington D.C. only to discover (when his letter of acceptance arrived) that he had inadvertently applied to the other Georgetown, the college in central Kentucky!
As it turned out, he went to neither: he took a detour to an elite prep school in Northfield, Mass.— the very one established more than a century ago by the famed evangelist Dwight L. Moody.
A year there and two years at Amherst College further down the Connecticut River have made him a successful student, two years from his B.A. degree. He studies history and political science with law school in his plans.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? I asked.
“Working for the United Nations in my homeland of Liberia,” he said quickly and clearly.
He finally made it to the Georgetown College, where he was first accepted four years ago, arriving in Kentucky last month to speak to the student body. With poise and passion far beyond his years, Kimmie challenged the students: “Young people can do so much to change the world,” he said. “You can make a difference if you have an idea, if your heart is full of passion, and if you act on it.”
God bless Kimmie Weeks; God bless the children who are safe today because of his passion; and God bless the students in Kentucky whose vocational imagination was stirred by his witness.
Dwight Moody is dean of the chapel at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky.