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.

Thanks to Bobby I have a short audio clip of an extraordinary conversation between Emmanuel Jal, the Sudanese ‘war child’ and two young Somali refugees living in Glasgow.  It comes from a longer podcast produced for the Aye Wright festival earlier this year but I think it deserves another hearing as Emmanuel Jal is about to speak at Edinburgh Book Festival.  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.  Just listen to this…

Click here to listen to Emmanuel Jal

Writing was physically painful for Emmanuel Jal. Reliving his experience of being 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 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. The result is a message of hope for all young refugees. Listen to this short clip here and you get some idea of what awaits the audience at this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival on Saturday 15 August.

Then listen to the longer podcast on RadioMagnetic . I think what gets me most of all is the humanity, hope and humour of a young man who lost his childhood in a war that destroyed human kindness in almost everyone he met. He calls it a jungle where circumstance forced people “to do things they would normally consider barbaric”.  This jungle also provided him with what it takes to survive as a refugee in a strange land.

The boy who became a soldier when he was six or seven owes his survival and education 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” – he promises 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 Somalis who interviewed him for the podcast to make the most of their opportunities. “Be thankful. Learn as much as you can.”  They 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. The photograph was taken by another student.

A slightly edited version of this story also appears on Leith Open Space.