Imagine having to run for your life — literally. When Mohamed Bah ’15 was just seven years old, the rebels came knocking at his door. His village was being destroyed, houses were burning to the ground, and people were being killed. Sierra Leone was being torn apart by rebels and war was everywhere.
At two o’clock in the morning there was a knock at their front door. Bah remembers his parents rushing him and his siblings into a back room where the door was locked behind them.
“When my father opened the door, a twelve year-old stood at the door with an AK-47,” Bah said. “He asked for clothes and food, which my parents gave him.”
During the war, the main objective was to obtain more child soldiers. Bah and his friends had heard stories and rumors of rebels burning down the houses of people who refused to open their doors.
Bah and his family were fortunate enough to escape when they did, but the horrors of that night remain etched in his mind.
“We heard people in the village screaming for their kids,” Bah recalled with a painful expression. “Houses were being burned down, cattle and chickens running wild. We heard people crying, some people half-dead, grasping for life.”
Though they lived through the attack on their village, Bah and his family had a long and arduous journey ahead of them if they planned on escaping the war. They began their excursion by heading towards Guinea, approximately 175 miles north of Sierra Leone. Their mode of travel: by foot. Along the way, Bah grew extremely sick from malnourishment and dehydration.
“I felt extremely sick and I thought I was going to die,” Bah said. “Our feet were swollen from so much walking; I was starving and thirsty. Sometimes we would sleep in the forest or on rocks, and sometimes in villages if the people would be kind enough to help us.”
He and his family walked for an entire month before finally arriving in Guinea, where they would be met by aid soldiers from the United Nations (U.N.). When he and his family finally arrived in Guinea, U.N. soldiers sent them to a refugee base, where Bah would begin school in the third grade. During his time at the camp, Bah found himself behind academically, and had to put in twice as much effort as his peers just to keep up with the class.
In 2003, the U.N declared the war was over, and Bah and his family could return to their home.
“When we returned to our village, everything was ruined,” Bah said. “We would have to rebuild everything from scratch.”
The healing and rebuilding process began, but it wasn’t long before Bah found himself extremely ill, a result of drinking contaminated water. Again, Bah flirted with death, unsure of how sick he was or even if he would wake up the next morning. His brother, who was living in Freetown at the time, came home to collect his ill brother and bring him back to the city, where he would receive proper medical attention and, upon his recovery, attend school. Bah was quickly nursed back to health, and began school once again.
In 2005 his school announced a scholarship available to the student who won a trivia competition about the history of Sierra Leone. The student who emerged victorious would have the opportunity to attend school in the United States, all expenses paid.
“I studied day and night to win the scholarship,” Bah said. “I did the research, read books, and constantly studied the history of our country.”
And his hard work would not go without compensation. Bah won the competition after answering dozens of questions correctly and exemplifying a mastery of his country’s history.
“I was so excited to know that I was going to the U.S.,” Bah said. “We saw videos about the good life, 50 cent, the land of op- portunity. I saw this as my chance to learn.”
But things weren’t going to come so easily for Bah. He didn’t know the language, the food was strange, the culture so inherently different than anything he had known. He was enrolled at the International School of Brooklyn, where he would learn English, take courses, and get used to his new home.
“I found it somewhat difficult to assimilate and acculturate myself to the American ways,” Bah said. “I barely knew the language and it took me a while to understand people.”
Throughout his career at the International School, Bah excelled academically, and participated in a multitude of extracurricular activities, including soccer and the Science and Technology Entry Program (S.T.E.P.). F&M was recommended to Bah, due to his extracurricular participation.
“I was told that F&M would be a good fit for me, and that they were very accommodating to international students,” Bah said.
Along with the help of his teachers and others at the International School, Bah applied to colleges, and received a scholarship to attend F&M through the Collegiate Leadership Summit (CLS).
Here at F&M, Bah is pursuing his academic interests, and he intends to major in government. He continues to participate in a variety of extracurricular activities and invests a great deal of his time in organizations around campus, such as IMPACT and
the Muslim Students Association. This spring, Bah decided to take up just one more thing: running track.
In just one season of training, Bah went from having never competed in a meet to earning himself a spot running the 400-meter dash on the championship distance medley relay team. He has shaven three seconds off his personal best time and will look to further improve on his time in the remaining competitions.
“I love the exercise you get from running track,” Bah said. “It helps you both physically and mentally. When I go to class, I always feel alert and good. When you work out, you don’t just exercise your body, but you also work out your mind, and I believe that running helps me excel in my studies. I also love the competition, that rush you have to get to the finish line in a race, because after all, that’s what life is. Everyone is running to make something of themselves.”
But Bah is running for something greater than just improving his times and competing. He has plans on returning to his home in Sierra Leone, where he aspires to become a politician, equipped with his education and a goal in mind to help make people’s lives the best they can be.