Emmanuel Jal, author and hip hop artist, will be talking about his book War Child at Edinburgh Book Festival. It is likely to be an unforgettable experience.
Writing is never easy but it is hard to imagine other authors in this year’s programme have gone through so much to get words on paper.
Writing was physically painful for Emmanuel Jal. Reliving his experiences as a child soldier was so traumatic he had a nose bleed every morning before he started work. He kept going because he believes his story can help to build a school in his hometown in Sudan. The result is a message of hope for young refugees everywhere.
The book, War Child: a boy soldier’s story, is now printed and published (along with the movie and the album). Words can be weapons but the hip hop artist uses them to make peace and mend wounds. If you listen to this short clip here – just a fragment of a longer conversation with two young Somali refugees in Glasgow – you will get some idea of what awaits the audience at this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival on Saturday 15 August.
Against all odds Emmanuel Jal speaks with humanity, hope and humour although he lost his childhood in a war that destroyed human kindness in almost everyone he met. He says it was a “jungle” where circumstance forced people “to do things they would normally consider barbaric”. This jungle also provided him with the resources it takes to survive as a refugee in a strange land. In London or Glasgow or Edinburgh.
The boy who became a soldier when he was six or seven owes his survival, education and eventual enlightenment to a British aid worker, Emma McCune, who tragically died not long after rescuing Jal and giving him a new home in Kenya.
Jal’s big mission now is to build the Emma Academy in Leer, Sudan, funded by his music, his book and a campaign called “Lose to Win” during which has pledged to eat no more than one meal a day until he has raised enough money to build the school.
“Education” he says, “is the only way to change things.” Perhaps most movingly of all he advises the two young Somali refugees to make the most of their opportunities. “Be thankful. Learn as much as you can.” All of them have what it takes to change the world. “We have stories to tell that people have to hear.
In Emmanuel Jal’s case the story is literally written in blood.
Listen to the full podcast on RadioMagnetic – recorded during the Aye Write Festival in Glasgow in March 2009 when Emmanuel Jal was taking to Muhammad Ali and Muhammad Ibrahim, students at the Bridges Programme in Glasgow.