Liberian dissident joins freshmen: Living under political asylum, Weeks '05 continues fight to prote

“Young people here have to realize their blessings and appreciate it, and they have to extend a helping hand for children out there,” said Weeks. “As long as I know that my work is getting children food, getting children hospitals, getting children medications, stopping wars, I could do this for three lifetimes.”

Weeks, who was granted political asylum from the United States after facubg life-threatening danger in Liberia, joined the class of 2005 this fall as a full-time student.

Dangerous liasons

Although the terms of Weeks’ political asylum prohibit him from returning to Liberia or Sierra Leone, he continues to work as an international liaison. Weeks is also organizing the Fifth International Children’s Conference on the Environment for 2003, a multimillion-dollar conference for 1,500 child environmental activists.

“I believe any young person can start an organization that can really change the world, but what you need to keep in mind is that there’s always going to be muddy waters, times that you’re stuck and nothing’s happening,” said Weeks. “There’s never been an organization or project that I’ve started that didn’t have bad times, but if you keep pressing on, if you change things a little, it goes on and becomes better and excels.”

Weeks is also presently working on his first American-based organization, the Young Environmental Ambassadors Corps. “I’m hoping it’ll be the largest youth organization for change,” he said. “If everybody in every country works in their community for change and if you put all those little things together and compile them, you’ll have a million miles of change.”

Unfortunately, Weeks’ outspoken opinions have led to a very dangerous circumstsance for the young activist. “I was considered one of the last political opposition figures [in Liberia] because everybody else had been killed by the government,” he said. “The thing that blessed me was that the police and army were looking for an adult-they had no idea how young I was-so I’d be standing in my office and they’d come in looking for Kimmie Weeks and I’d say, ‘I don’t know who Kimmie Weeks is.'”

Weeks first began his campaign for children in the midst of the Liberian Civil War. “Because of the war, I taught myself everything in high school; I used old textbooks, whatever I could get my hands on,” he said. “After 1991, I had started working as a child rights activist in Liberia with the basic vendetta to make the children in Liberia’s lives better.”

At the age of 13 in 1994, Weeks founded Voice of the Future, an organization funded by the United Nations that provides informal education and health care for children, rebuilds playgrounds and lobbies the government for children’s rights. He also founded the Children’s Bureau of Information, a service that operates newspapers, newsletters and radio programs to help children who

have fought in the war or suffered in some way because of it.

Up in arms

Weeks’ next project in 1996 was the Children’s Disarmament Campaign to free the 20,000 child soldiers fighting in the Liberian rebel forces. “Even if I can’t stop the entire war, at least I’m going to get children out of war,” he said. “The youngest [child] was six and the oldest was 18, so you can imagine a little six-year old toting around a big machine and going to the battlefronts to kill people.”

Thankfully, by the end of the year, the Liberian rebel forces agreed to disarm the children. At this time, Weeks was also becoming known internationally as a spokesperson for children’s rights. He had presented the plight of the Liberian children to the United Nations, was honored at the Goodwill Games as a UNICEF Young Ambassador and even had the chance to meet former Vice President Al Gore.

“When I went back [to Liberia], I was more or less a permanent figure when it came to children’s issues so whenever something bad or terrible happened regarding children, people came to me,” said Weeks. Thus, when he learned of a military base that was training 500 child soldiers in 1998, Weeks took it upon himself to investigate and obtain evidence for his report.

A sigh of relief

After the Liberian government’s Department of Justice denied the allegation that they were training child soldiers, Weeks discussed the issue with the president of Liberia and ended up releasing his report to the press. “It happened on a Friday and newspapers in Liberia do not come out on weekends, so it was only the radio stations that carried it on Saturday and Sunday, but since the president never listens to radio he didn’t hear about it until Monday morning,” Weeks said. “The entire country was at a virtual standstill waiting to see how the government would respond,” he said.

After an extended delay, the government finally admitted the press to the military base, which had been already cleared of all the child soldiers, according to Weeks. The remaining adult soldiers were given strict orders to tell the press that they didn’t know anything. According to Weeks, when the press asked the soldiers questions inquiring about their name, age or rank, they all replied that they didn’t know. “You can imagine the media had a field day, and that’s when the president sends the army and the police to find me,” he said.

Soldiers were deployed at Weeks’ school and at his house. “There was an entire battalion of men sitting [at my school] with rocket-propelled grenades as if I’m going to walk in and say ‘hi,'” he said. “When I first started, I wasn’t scared because I didn’t think the government would react in that way, but they were doing this in secret so that’s when it became scary.” Weeks was eventually forced to leave Liberia for the Ivory Coast in January 1999 out of concern for his physical safety and has been residing in the United States on political asylum since August 1999.

“You do not want to be chased by a government; I would much rather be hunted down by the American government considering that they’d probably arrest me, put me in jail and probably send me to trial, even though they wouldn’t arrest me for saying the truth,” said Weeks. “But in Liberia, you’ve got these guys who are former rebel forces who have killed people for seven years now pretending to be army personnel, and the president has told them, ‘Find him and bring him to me dead or alive.'”

Active in America

Once in the United States, Weeks wanted to continue his education. He went to Glasgow High School, a public school in Delaware, for a year and completed a one-year post-graduate program at Northfield Mount Hermon (NMH), a prep school in Northfield, Mass. “I’m happy to be here, but it’s just that I have very close family members back home. I absolutely miss the food and I haven’t spoken to my mother in four years,” Weeks said. “Without my mother, I would’ve definitely died in the war because she basically found all the food; she’s not only a role model, but a lifesaver.”

Weeks has also continued his activism in the United States. “There’s no way I would drop education to become an activist [and] there’s no way I would drop activism for education,” he said. At Glasgow, he worked to educate his peers about Africa and African culture and to help rebuild the Liberian education system. “It is one of my key concerns right now to help rebuild the Liberian education system, to provide books and rebuild schools that are destroyed,” said Weeks. “Right now, 120 students are in a class that was originally intended for 15, so everybody should feel blessed [in the US] where you have everything at your disposal-look at the library or the media center!”

Weeks attributed the success of many of his high school projects to Samir Pancha, currently a senior at NMH. “There’s nothing I’ve done without having help from someone I’ve come to trust,” he said. “Even at Amherst, unless I can find that magical person, it’s going to be impossible to do any projects here because everything will go haywire.”

At NMH, Weeks organized projects that raised over $5,000 to rebuild schools in Liberia and educated people about what they could do to help alleviate the tragedies that have befallen post-war countries such as Liberia. “This year, I know everybody [at NMH] is forming their own human rights groups; they’ve realized that they have the capacity to do whatever change in the world,” Weeks said.

In anticipation of the heavy workload at Amherst, however, Weeks has resigned many of his positions, though he is still active in many smaller projects. “I said to myself that I’d do nothing in Amherst but academics until I felt I was stable and I could do it,” he said. “Then I said the same thing when I went to NMH and I ended up doing 10 different things; if I can find a magic button to bring peace to the world and if every child has food, I’ll retire young.”