Child soldier turned peace ambassador on school visit

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A FORMER child soldier who has become an acclaimed recording artist and peace ambassador hopes he can inspire Jersey schoolchildren to find their purpose.

Emmanuel Jal, who has released six award-nominated studio albums, yesterday spoke to students at St Michael’s Preparatory School in the first of a series of talks about his personal experiences.

Mr Jal was a child soldier in the war-torn region of southern Sudan in the early 1980s, before eventually being rescued by a British aid worker and smuggled to Kenya.

In 2008, a documentary on his life, called Warchild, won 12 film festival awards. An autobiography of the same name was also published.

He co-starred with Reese Witherspoon in The Good Lie – a film about four young Sudanese refugees who win a lottery for relocation to the United States.

During his musical career he has made a number of live appearances, including a performance at Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday concert and at Live 8 in 2005.

Asked what message he hoped the children would take away from his talks, Mr Jal said: ‘Believe in something – life is worth finding something that you can believe in doing. Find what it is that you want to change in the world, learn, equip yourself with skills and just do it.’

He added: ‘It is basically about telling them look – your life is now, and each and every experience is very important and it is going to equip you for the future. Each one of us has something that only they can do, nobody else. What is it that is placed in your heart, what is that purpose of yours that you are here for? Children know their purpose but the older they get, they get distracted and drop it.’

Mr Jal said he would ‘definitely’ return to the Island in future – possibly to take part in a concert.

The school’s headmaster, Mike Rees, said: ‘We live in a wonderful protected bubble here in Jersey with a lot of privilege – even extended into the UK – and when I first heard Emmanuel speaking it chimed with my experiences in Africa, [where I have witnessed] a lot of poverty, inequality, hunger and simple unfairness. What I think the children will get out of this is an awareness that there is that in the world and an awareness that, more importantly, we can do something about it.’

He added: ‘It is an important story to tell – that the power to change our minds and our circumstances is within us. That is a key message he is going to give to the children today. No matter how ghastly you think the outcome might be you can always turn it around and the power is within you.’

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