In 1991, when he was just 10 years old, Kimmie Weeks was declared dead. A shallow grave was dug for his emaciated body.
His mother refused to believe he was gone and miraculously, Weeks regained consciousness to survive the cholera that wracked his malnourished body. That night he made a vow that he would never let another child endure what he had ever since the Liberian civil war broke out in 1989 and promptly ended his childhood.
"That war was life changing, we went from normalcy to total chaos, where you faced death everyday," said Weeks, now 26.
Since then Weeks has tirelessly endeavored to keep this vow through grassroots efforts. The international humanitarian and activist is in Traverse City this week to not only share his story, but to find others who want to help end poverty and suffering around the globe.
"When I was 9, I went from a kid who went to school, to a kid living in a place where children became soldiers, where there was gunfire, rocket attacks, hunger and disease," he said from his home in Philadelphia, where he is earning a master's degree at the University of Pennsylvania.
"We were put in a camp for displaced people where there was no food and we were eating roots and leaves; there was all kinds of sickness, yellow fever, malaria, cholera and it was a struggle to get through the day," he recalled.
While they lived in that virtual hell, he said that they kept hearing help was on the way. But it never came.
"I could see it was wrong," said Weeks, who by age 14 began to single-handedly make changes in the war-torn West African nation.
As a teen he founded and chaired the Children's Disarmament Campaign and helped to disarm 20,000 child soldiers. In 1997, he published a report on the training of child soldiers. That put him on the Liberian government's hit list and he was forced to flee to the United States, where he has been granted political asylum.