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Alum Wins Liberia’s Highest Honor
By Stephanie Brown '07
Kimmie Weeks '05 (at right,
next to a U.N. peacekeeper), after
receiving Liberia's highest honor.
At age 10, when his heart grew weak from chicken pox, cholera and jaundice, Kimmie Weeks ’05 was declared dead. He was about to be buried in a mass refugee grave in his native Liberia when his mother, in desperation, began to hit his body. Finally, he stirred.
Since then, Weeks has been fighting for the rights and safety of children in Liberia and beyond. For his efforts, he has now received the highest honor in Africa’s oldest country: over the summer, he was named Knight Grand Commander in Liberia’s Humane Order of African Redemption.
Weeks became an activist while still a child. After recovering from his near-death experience, he worked to clear debris from Liberian communities torn by the civil war that started in 1989. He also worked with sick babies in temporary hospitals and co-founded Voice of the Future, a group that advocates for children’s rights. At age 15, he founded and chaired an organization that lobbied for the disarmament of child soldiers in the country.
In 1998, a year after the nation’s general disarmament, Weeks wrote a report on the Liberian military’s practice of training children as soldiers. The report was so controversial, he says, that after publishing it, several attempts were made on his life. Afraid he’d be assassinated, Weeks evacuated Liberia in 1999, arriving alone in the United States, where he was granted political asylum.
Eventually, Weeks enrolled at Amherst. One night, over wings and beer in South Dormitory, friends suggested he start an organization to help Amherst students do service around the globe. Thus began Youth Action International, a student-run organization focused on rebuilding playgrounds and orphanages in war-torn areas. By its second year, YAI had opened offices in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana. Today it has expanded to Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
Weeks is one of the youngest people ever to win the title of Knight Grand Commander, awarded by Liberia’s head of state and commander in chief, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, for “sacrificial and dedicated services to the people of Liberia.” In addition to the honor, Weeks also received an e-mail (which he initially deleted, thinking it was a prank) and finally a phone call inviting him to serve as national orator for Liberia’s 160th Independence Anniversary celebration.
His speech, about reclaiming Liberia’s future, was well-received; many called it among the greatest ever delivered in the country.
Today, Weeks is a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is studying nonprofit management. His long-term plan: to run for president of Liberia.
Photo courtesy of Kimmie Weeks '05