From Nashville to Africa - Bethany Haley takes on Rebel Warlords & Helps Child Soldiers
How did Bethany Haley, a deer hunting, country girl from Western KY, now living in Nashville, TN, become an international humanitarian for former child soldiers and speaker at The Hague’s, International War Crimes Tribunal? - An adventure to Africa.
For as long as she can remember, Bethany was always fascinated by Africa, the people, exotic animals and lands. She can’t explain why, but knew when she was old enough, she would go there. At 18, she went to the continent for the first time, volunteering with a church group to teach orphaned children.
Her volunteer trips continued and would become more profound as she ventured into war torn Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and Sudan. She met and saw the physical and psychological effects of war affected children, brutally disfigured, victims of rape and former child soldiers, some forced to kill their own parents and siblings.
Her heart was wrecked with grief for these poor children. She prayed to find a way to help them.
How does a child, or anyone for that matter, start healing after such atrocities? Bethany, who in between volunteer trips, would get her PhD in counseling psychology, knew therapy was key. But where do you start? “With hope, healing and love” she says.
In 2008, she co-found eXile International in Brentwood, TN, with Peggy Cox. “eXile international exists to instill hope, healing, and love to Africa’s war-affected children and former child soldiers through art and expressive trauma therapy. By teaming with existing African organizations and local leaders on the ground, our hope is to bring our art therapy and counseling program, The HOPE Initiative, into the wounded communities of Congo and East Africa.”
Bethany is a force to be reckoned with once she sets her mind on something. “You either stand beside her or get out of her way” her mama says with pride. In between Bethany’s counseling practice in Nashville, TN, she is busy raising money for eXile International, building advocacy with politicians in D.C., growing programs in Africa and testifying at The Hague against renowned, Congo rebel warlord Thomas Lubunga.
I asked Bethany if she ever felt scared or threaten by anyone in her experiences.
“The problem is that I probably need to feel more afraid than I do some times. I am rarely afraid to go into the places we go, because I feel like I am called to be there. We always take precautions and have amazing local Africa leaders on the ground who we partner with in our work each day.
One time when my phone was stolen and the former child soldiers chased him down to beat him in front of me. Then a man came around the corner to saw off his hands. I quickly put a stop to it!”
Africa is a much different world then Nashville, TN, but children are children in any country and they need to be loved and nurtured. Bethany won’t give up on them. “It’s the children the world almost breaks, who grow up to save it.”
eXile International has their biggest fundraising event of the year this week.
The Snow Ball: Celebration of Hope, Healing & Love is on Thursday, December 8th at 7:45pm at the Cannery Ballroom. A night full of music, food and festivities, it is our biggest fundraising event of the year.
Hear from Ishmael Beah and Bethany Haley and several musical talents, including Nashville's own Amy Stroup, Ruby Amanfu, Jonathan Lister, and k.s. rhoads.
Ishmael Beah, a UN ambassador for peace and New York Times bestselling author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. He will share his story as a child soldier and out of his pain came purpose and deep meaning.
This is the hope eXile International wishes for the children in Africa.
To attend this event or for more information on eXile International go to: www.exileinternational.org
P.S. - Even if you can’t make the Snow Ball, don’t forget to check out eXile International’s online store which sells jewelry made by the children in Africa. It’s a great gift idea for the holidays! http://www.exileinternationalstore.org/
“I dreamt my whole life about being a mother,” says Heidi Jellison. “I never dreamt about a big wedding, honestly never even dreamt about the husband part.” Jellison, a 35-year-old concert harpist and harp teacher, laughs at this last bit, but then her face settles into a quiet solemnity.
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