When it came to choosing a location for the launch of his autobiography, alumnus Desmond Kamara (BA ’10) says there was always only one option in his mind. 

“This is where my dream came true, and I would not launch this book anywhere except the University of Lethbridge,” he says of Looking Back: From Yele, Gbonkolenken Tonkolili District Sierra Leone to Lethbridge, Alberta Canada (Achieving an Educational Dream).

A book launch, including the opportunity to purchase and have copies signed by the author, will be held at ULethbridge on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023, beginning noon in Andy’s Place (AH100). His book will also be available for purchase in the University Bookstore, and online.

Desmond, or Dez as he prefers to be called, can’t speak more positively about the support provided him during his time at the University, whether it came from the International Centre, the Department of Anthropology, his classmates or the campus community as a whole. 

“For me, this is how I give back to the University of Lethbridge,” says Kamara, who was overwhelmed by the assistance and reception he received as a student and when his documentary about the child soldiers of Sierra Leone, The Kids of St. Michael’s, was screened at the University in 2010

His book takes readers from his formative years in Sierre Leone to the proud moment he walked across the stage at ULethbridge Convocation in 2010 to accept his Bachelor of Arts majoring anthropology. 

The University, says Kamara, figures prominently in his autobiography. He recalls his headmaster father telling students when they attend a post-secondary institution, they need “to let the values of the institution go through them.”  

“They went through me. I can always tell anyone that I am the values and the principles of the University of Lethbridge, and in combination with my family, they helped me to be who I am today,” says Kamara, noting the back cover of his autobiography features a photo of the stage area at his convocation. 

Penning his life story wasn’t something Kamara had ever imagined. The process began in 2016, as he was reflecting on the values instilled in him as a young child by his parents, both teachers. The chapters of his life started spilling out in hand-written notes, on any scrap of paper he could find.  

He finished the manuscript that year, but publication of his autobiography was delayed after he first took international development work in Jamaica, and then pushed back further because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Looking Back: From Yele, Gbonkolenken Tonkolili District Sierra Leone to Lethbridge, Alberta Canada (Achieving an Educational Dream) was just recently published and will be available for purchase online shortly. 

While Kamara believes his book provides something for every reader, he says immigrants, refugees, international students and those institutions which support them, will find special interest. 

“They will truly appreciate because they will look at my journey and how I overcame in the midst of adversity, and how I thrived,” he says. 

Kamara says the message he hopes to convey at the book launch is simple: dreams do come true. He took personal inspiration from the lyrics of a Ziggy Marley song, Circle of Peace, which include “… only the willing will see their dreams.” 

“Are you willing to focus and despite the stumbling blocks you might face, see your dream? There might be difficulties, but if you focus and work hard with the tools that you have, you will achieve your dream,” he says. 

Dr. Jan Newberry, Chair of the Anthropology Department, remembers Kamara fondly from his days in her classes. She calls his upcoming book launch at the ULethbridge a “gratifying, full-circle moment.”

“His memoir describes his journey from Sierra Leone to the University of Lethbridge and beyond, highlighting not only the value of education but of community and friendship,” says Newberry. “Dez’s experience shows the reach of the University’s international students and the making of the University’s global community.”

Kamara is presently living in Gatineau, Que., where he is working with youth in community mental health. Now that he’s achieved his educational dream, in the next chapter he wants to continue the fight for “social justice in society.” 

“My task now is to break the barriers of exclusion, to help the forgotten, those left behind and the voiceless. It could be refugees, or immigrants, or child combatants or anyone in our society who is discriminated against, or excluded,” he says. “I feel with what I have achieved with the struggles I’ve faced, I need to give back and help those who need it.”