In 2000 Rye Barcott spent part of his summer living in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya. He was a college student heading into the Marines, and he sought to better understand ethnic violence-something he would likely facelater in uniform. He learned Swahili, asked questions, and listened to young people talk about how they survived in poverty he had never imagined. Anxious to help but unsure what to do, he stumbled into friendship with awidowed nurse, Tabitha Atieno Festo, and a hardscrabble community organizer, Salim Mohamed. Together, this unlikely trio built a non-governmental organization that would develop a new generation of leaders from within one of Africa's largest slums.
Their organization, Carolina for Kibera (CFK), is now a global pioneer of the movement called Participatory Development, and washonored by Time magazine as a "Hero of Global Health." CFK's greatest lesson may be that with the right kind of support, people in desperate places will take charge of their lives and create breathtaking change. Engaged in two seemingly contradictory forms of public service at the same time, Barcott continued his leadership in CFK while serving as a human intelligence officer in Iraq, Bosnia, and the Horn of Africa. Struggling with the intense stress of leading Marines in dangerous places, he took thetools he learned building a community in one of the most fractured parts of Kenya and became a more effective counterinsurgent and peacekeeper. It Happened on the Way to War is a true story of sacrifice and courage and the powerful melding of military and humanitarian service. It's a story of what America's role in the world could be.
Amazon Exclusive: Steven Pressfield Reviews It Happened on the Way to War
Steven Pressfield is the author of the hugely successful historical novels Gates of Fire, Tides of War, and Last of the Amazons. His debut novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, was made into a movie starring Matt Damon and Will Smith in 2000. He lives in California.
I had never heard of Kibera before I read Rye Barcott's extraordinary memoir, It Happened On the Way to War. Kibera is the mega-slum of Nairobi, Kenya. A little over ten years ago, when he was still an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina, Mr. Barcott founded, with his friends Tabitha Atieno Festo and Salim Mohamed, "Carolina for Kibera," a grass-roots organization that would grow to include sports programs, a medical clinic, and a number of other locally mounted and locally maintained initiatives including the periodic (and now famous) "Wars on Garbage."
Rye and his co-founders started Carolina For Kibera with twenty-six dollars, the same figure as the price of this book. What CFK has become in the intervening decade (and who Rye Barcott has become) is recounted in this fascinating and deeply personal memoir. As a Marine captain in Iraq, Bosnia and the Horn of Africa, Rye Barcott still kept up his work in Kibera. He kept it up while leading Marines in combat in Fallujah, and later, attending graduate school at Harvard and being named to the inaugural class of TED Fellows. Quite a guy.
It Happened On the Way to War brings echoes of Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father and James Webb's Fields of Fire in that it introduces us to a new generation of leaders—tested, committed and intellectually resourceful (one thinks also of Nathaniel Fick and Eric Greitens), who will bring, we hope, a kind of muscular compassion to the global problems that have vexed my generation and the president’s so severely. If our leaders applied the lessons of this book to our foreign policy, we wouldn’t need any more "surges." This young Marine captain’s riveting and masterfully-written story demonstrates how much a small group of committed individuals with vision and heart can accomplish, working together in some of the world’s most dangerous trouble spots. Captain Barcott's odyssey from Kibera to Fallujah to Harvard and back to Kibera is clearly only prologue to a career that we will hear much more from in the future. Remember the name Rye Barcott. And read It Happened On the Way to War.
From Publishers Weekly
Barcott, cofounder of the nongovernmental organization Carolina for Kibera (CFK), recounts the demands of serving as a Marine Corps officer while running a nascent nonprofit in this overwrought memoir. In 2000, as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina, the author traveled to Kenya's notorious slum Kibera, in Nairobi, to study ethnic violence. The experience brought his "terribly privileged" background into relief, and Barcott—along with Tabitha Atieno Festo, a nurse, and Salim Mohammed, a community organizer—launched a nonprofit to ferry resources to local leaders in the hopes that they could directly promote development and prevent violence. A year later, with CFK barely launched, Barcott was commissioned as a Marine Corps officer and began an exhausting "balancing act" as he struggled to maintain oversight of CFK while deploying to Bosnia, Djibouti, and Iraq. The author's account of his military service is strained and riddled with inconsistencies: despite his desire "to lead Marines in combat," he angled for an intelligence billet; despite believing the Iraq war was "unjust,"' he volunteered to deploy. Barcott's service to Kibera and his country is laudable, but his memoir promises more insight and candor than it delivers. (Apr.)
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