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Cover for It Happened On the Way to War

It Happened On the Way to War

A Marine's Path to Peace

Rye Barcott


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“Rye Barcott's unstoppable drive to do good in the world leads him to concurrent forms of public service. To serve the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya, he co-founds the organization Carolina for Kibera (CFK). To serve his country, he joins the Marines and trains to be a Human Intelligence Officer. Drawing on his experiences and the people around him, Rye applies what he learns in Kibera to the challenges of the Marines, and vice versa. This book will restore your faith in humanity, and remind you how much impact one person can have.”
— Andrea Avantaggio, Maria's Bookshop, Durango, CO
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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 face later 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 a widowed 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 was honored 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 the tools 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.

Praise For It Happened On the Way to War: A Marine's Path to Peace

“Every American should read this remarkable story by a remarkable man who fought as a Marine in Iraq and waged a battle against poverty, disease and ignorance in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Barcott's prose evokes the sights and smells of the places he's been, and the people in this book are not mere names but fully-rounded human beings, with all their virtues and flaws. His tale is cautionary--effecting real change in the world is never easy or cheap, and is often heartbreaking. But it is an equally inspirational story, showing that one individual, acting with courage and commitment, can make a difference.” —Philip Caputo, author of A Rumor of War, and many others

“An unforgettable odyssey. We need more of these wonderful affirmative tales of how good can triumph in Africa, as it can anywhere.” —Alexander McCall Smith, author of The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency

“Compelling. Former Marine Captain Rye Barcott demonstrates how our forces must today be capable of fighting and development in this important and revealing story of service on two fronts.” —Brigadier General H.R. McMaster, U.S. Army, author of Dereliction of Duty

“Rye Barcott's engaging and candid memoir on the catalytic power of participatory development shows us that, whether we are in the slums of the world's biggest cities, in rural Haiti, or on college campuses, we can learn from Tabitha, Salim, and Rye--a nurse, a community organizer, and a young Marine living in urban poverty--about how to fight extreme privation and bring about lasting change.” —Dr. Paul Farmer, professor, Harvard Medical School; co-founder, Partners In Health

“Rye Barcott is one of those rare people who can bridge the widest divides with ease. This book is a gift.” —Nathaniel Fick, author of One Bullet Away

“A tremendous story of the power of friendship, love, and the transforming grace of God.” —Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

“A must read for anyone interested in leadership. The solutions to our greatest challenges will be found by unlocking the potential of communities like Kibera.” —Eric Schmidt, chairman and CEO, Google

“Rye Barcott has captured what I have experienced to be true around the world--that people living in the most unimaginable circumstances can do extraordinary things if given a chance and that we have much to learn from them. Rye's personal story and example encourages, challenges and provides hope.” —Jonathan T.M. Reckford, CEO, Habitat for Humanity International

“Rye Barcott has given us a truly amazing memoir--humane, harrowing, inspiring, and complex in its portrayal of an almost paradoxical accommodation between Eros and Thanatos. This is at least as much a compassionate and emboldening manifesto as it is a work of autobiography.” —Tim O'Brien, author of The Things They Carried

“The best book to land on my desk this year…A heart-warming tale, told with both passion and candor. I think it should be required reading for two communities that are often hostile to each other: the NGO world and soldiers.” —Bobby Ghosh,

“Detailed, vivid, earnest, and remarkable in rendering with equal intensity his interactions with poor children in Nairobi and his experiences at OCS or on patrol in Fallujah. I was struck by its epigraph, which is also the slogan of Carolina for Kibera: "Talent is universal; opportunity is not." That is one of the clearest lessons of my own experience around the world over the years. It is heartening, in the current political mood, that a young, talented, ambitious American would choose that as the theme he wanted to stress... An encouraging story. Check it out..” —James Fallows,

“[Barcott's] inspiring memoir shows just how much one man can accomplish with determination and heart.” —Booklist

“A thoughtful examination of the nature of service and the effects of violence on the human spirit.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Powerful, compelling, and genuine.” —Proceedings Magazine

“Moving, sad, humorous, sometimes dramatic, and beautifully written…[It Happened on the Way to War] is a story about what is possible, and will be inspirational to new generations of leaders and public servants.” —The Officer

Bloomsbury USA, 9781608192175, 352pp.

Publication Date: April 4, 2011

About the Author

Rye Barcott founded the renowned non-governmental organization Carolina for Kibera (CFK) with Salim Mohamed and Tabitha Atieno Festo while he was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After graduation, he served as a Marine for five years on active duty. In 2006 ABC World News named then Captain Barcott a Person of the Week and Person of the Year for his dual service to Kibera and the Marine Corps. As a Reynolds Social Entrepreneurship Fellow, he earned master's degrees in business and public administration from Harvard University. He is currently a member of the World Learning Board of Trustees and a TED Fellow living in Charlotte, North Carolina.