I have recently returned from ten days in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, where I have been lucky enough to meet our wonderful amputees and their incredible families. They invited us into their homes and their schools. We visited the limb clinic and a hospital too.
I can’t begin to tell you what an emotional trip it was. I first visited Sierra Leone in 2012 and was deeply shocked and saddened by the poverty then. For some reason, particularly because we hear so much about how much Britain is spending on global poverty, I thought maybe the infrastructure might be better this time.
But now, seven years later, it seemed even hotter, the humidity felt worse, as did the living conditions. There is very little sanitation in Freetown, so people can not use loos because they do not exist. So, you see people going to the loo on the streets. Litter is absolutely everywhere, all over the roads, the streets, in alleyways, all over the floor.
This means that when it rains, (and the rain is torrential) it floods. Dirty water cascades down muddy paths like water falls, flooding people’s slum homes and spreading disease. People run about looking for shelter, but there is very little shelter for them to find. People use this water for washing and cooking. Sometimes you see a well providing clean water but they are few and far between; many more are needed.
Women carry water in bowls on their heads. I cannot imagine how heavy it is. They carry everything on their heads – food, clothes, furniture and many belongings. But I visited for the child amputees. All these stony paths, dangerous over-crowded roads and over-crowded hospitals make life for amputees in Freetown nearly impossible. If they are not given prosthetic legs I do not know how they manage to get out of their homes; they rarely do leave home.
But a bigger problem we have to tackle is the problem of stigma. You do not see many amputees or disabled people in Freetown. Not only is it very difficult for them to leave their homes (if they are lucky enough to have one), they are taught to believe they have been cursed. The amputee children are taught that they are devil children, who have been born with demons. They are told to stay in their homes. Their parents are embarrassed and ashamed and often abandon their disabled children, leaving them in ditches to die. And if they have not been cast aside to die they are often worth more to the family as beggars.
Elizabeth’s Legacy of Hope seeks not only give our amputee children who have lost their legs prosthetic legs, but we also give them an education. This is such an important part of our work. It is just as important as the prosthetic limbs, because we need to change the way they perceive themselves. It sets them up for the future.
All our amputees want a future and they are so grateful for the support that they want to support their families when they grow up. We also help their families to love and accept their amputee children. The children missing arms are important to us too. Without us, they would not be at school. They need to feel loved, useful and they are excited about the future.
We are working with a new charity now called Enable the Children. The project is run by Anna Vines, who my sister Victoria and I both met when we were given a Point of Light award by the Prime Minister David Cameron. Anna has dedicated her life to helping disabled children. She is truly inspirational.
I came back to England, not with a sense of despair at the poverty our amputees suffer, but with a real sense of hope. Anna and her team absolutely love all the children they look after. Amputee and disabled children in Sierra Leone are not used to being loved. It takes them a while to understand that they are worthy of being loved. But they are loved. Their families are taught to love them, Pastor Finney who looks after them so much adores them and will visit them whenever they need him. They can phone him any time, day or night and he will go and see them.
Amputee children grow so fast, it can be dangerous, so Pastor Finney will arrange hospital visits and take them there if needed. The prosthetic limbs are made by a man called Pastor Angel who is so proud of his clinic and the Vac machine we gave him last year which ensures a perfect fit for the limbs.
We have seen the limbs the children are wearing and we followed the process of Pastor Angel making a limb. Education is a vital part of our work, the only disabled children we saw in the schools were the amputees we are helping. I am so proud to say that our amputees are going to school and living the life they deserve to live. I would love to tell you a little about our children here:
1. Alice Kargbo – aged 9. Alice is a beautiful girl, smiling and happy. She lives with her lovey care giver Jane. Alice was born with a “decayed” foot and her mother left her in a ditch to die when she was a tiny baby. Alice found her, rescued her and loves her. Alice lives with two other orphans whom Jane has taken under her care, Jeremiah and Hope. Alice is a very happy little girl. But when we were there, she needed a trip to hospital because her leg was sore. It was a bit lumpy at the end. Really she needed to see the doctor, but the doctor was too busy and there were no anti biotics at the hospital that day, so we gave Alice some ibuprofen to take away the pain. I suggested she takes her leg off for a while and rests. But she is very like my daughter Pollyanna and loves dancing. She is a gorgeous little girl. She is so lucky to have Jane.
2. Sheku Sesay – Aged 14. Sheku fell onto some broken glass when he was five years old and the injury was so bad it resulted in an amputation.
Sheku invited us to his school and showed us into the classroom and introduced us to his teachers! He shared his class with about 50 other children. He is a very bright boy and his teachers said they are proud of his work. He came with his sister Isatu and she thanked us so much for changing his life by giving him an education and all his medical needs.
3. Mayenie Kamara – Aged 7. Mayenie was born with a congenital disability.
She is a lovely little girl. She is quiet, but smiles a lot and when you meet her you just want to hug her. We first met Mayenie on the Saturday at the support group nearly all the amputees came to. She was measured up for the limb. She was quite shy about it. On the Wednesday we visited Pastor Angel in the limb clinic and we watched him make her leg! It was incredible to see. It is so different to the limb clinics here. It was so dark, so hot and full of equipment I did not recognise, but he showed us the vac we bought for him and he made the leg. It was so amazing to see. Then he put a brown covering on it, so it was the right colour. On Friday, before we left we met Mayenie’s family at their home in Lungi near the airport. Their home over looks the beach, it is in a beautiful place. We then went to Mayenie’s school and gave her her new leg. She put it on and walked off to her class straight away, and she gave me a huge hug. I was very emotional at that time.
4. Santigi Conteh – Aged 12.
Santigi was born with bilateral focomelia of the legs and had a double amputation in order to allow him to walk with crutches. We have now given him prosthetic limbs, but I would hope he might have another operation one day to help him walk more easily.
Meeting Santigi is a truly humbling experience. He is a truly exceptional little boy. When we met him he was not wearing his prosthetic legs, but he was playing football, very fast. Just like any other footballer, he moves around very fast over the stony ground and has his worn out trainers on his hands. He scores incredible goals from quite a distance and would be a match for any footballer. It bucketed rain when we were there and he continued in the rain and the puddles. He loves Liverpool FC and wants to be a football player when he grows up. I would love to help him with his dream. Later that week we visited his home. Like most of our amputees he does not even have a mattress to sleep on.
5. Yusif Bangura – Aged 14.
The reason Yusif lost his leg is very harrowing. When he was 12 he was doing well at school and he was made a Prefect. However, due to the lack of toilets he was going to the loo in a ditch when someone pushed him over and he broke his leg. His parent took him to native healers for two years, because this is what many people believe in. But the leg got infected and eventually he had to have it amputated.
Yusif did seem quite withdrawn and sad. We are helping him to be more confident. His amputation is very high, so it is hard for him to wear his leg, but we are trying to help him. He is a very gentle boy.
6. Joan Jackson – Aged 14.
Joan fell off a bench when she was just 6 years old and broke her arm. Like Yusif she was taken to a traditional healer, but this did not help. Two years later, her arm had rotted and it had to be amputated to save her life.
Joan really is an amazing girl! She absolutely loves football and plays it all the time! She plays for a team in Freetown with the boys and she scores many goals. She wants to be a professional footballer when she grows up. She lives with her Uncle who is very proud of her. He allows her to play football in a yard outside the house and he keeps an eye on her and the boys look after her. It is a very touching story. I would like to help her achieve her dream. It is nearly unheard of in Sierra Leone for a girl to play football like this. Joan also works very hard at school and is very good at maths. I was so impressed by Joan’s determination and elegance. She is a fabulous girl with a wonderful family.
7. Daniel Kamara – Aged 13.
Daniel’s story is very sad indeed. Daniel was injured in the terrible mudslide in Freetown in 2017. He also lost his two sisters and his mother. Daniel lost his leg above the knee.
Daniel’s father invited us to their new home, which overlooks where the landslide happened. I think this is hard for the family. Daniel is able to walk quite well with his prosthetic but uses crutches, he also loves school and playing football. We also visited his school on a hill side and it was smaller and felt very supportive. Daniel’s house has very little furniture and is up many stairs. They also have goats and chickens in the house. Daniel looks a little sad, we hope within time he will become happier, but I know that Pastor Finney cares about him very much and we hope that time will heal a bit for Daniel. Daniel’s father is very supportive and loves Daniel very much indeed, which is a wonderful thing to see.
8. James Kamara – Aged 12.
James fell out of a tree whilst picking mangoes in 2012. His parents took him to a native healer, but this did more damage and it resulted in an amputation.
James is sad because after James lost his arm his mother abandoned him and his father was already dead, so he now lives with his uncle. We met him at the support group and he told me over and over how grateful he was for the support Pastor Finney gives him, for the fact he goes to school and how much he loves his friends. But he asked me to be his mother, and that made me sad. I know that Enable the children will help him to feel loved and confident again.
9. Mohamed Brokerie – Aged 11.
Mohamed was involved in a car accident when he was 5 years old and his parents took him to traditional healers. But his arm became septic and this resulted in an amputation.
We visited Mohamed in his home. This in a shack in a busy slum area. It was so hot and full of flies. But his neighbours and his family all seem to live together as one happy family! they did not stop laughing and we so pleased to see us. But I came away, not knowing where any of them sleep, it was so dirty. But Mohamed’s mother is so grateful for his education and care. She cant really believe how much Pastor Finney loves Mohamed and she could not stop laughing.
10. Alimatu Sesay – Aged 16.
Alimatu was born with a congenital disability from birth and has no arm below her left elbow.
We visited Alimatu in her school. She was so proud to show us round and she was very quietly spoken. But her Head of school says she is the perfect pupil. She works so hard all the time and she wants to be a banker when she grows up so she can support her family. She is so grateful for the help she is receiving from us. But she still has many hospital appointments for her arm. Pastor Finney arranges these and helps her get there. She really is a beautiful girl, quiet, gentle and very kind. She shares her crowded class with about 60 other children but is still one of the top of the class. She works very hard.
11. Saidu Sesay – Aged 9.
Saidu has been born with a very severe congenital deformity in both his legs. He needs a double amputation soon, so hopefully he will eventually walk with prosthetic limbs.
I have not met Saidu. Anna and her team have been searching for him and they eventually found him in Makeni, about 200 miles north of Freetown. But we hope that soon, we can help him move to Freetown to be under our care. He will require a lot of help, but now we can give him that help. From his photo, he looks like an incredible boy and we can’t wait to help him walk, play with his friends and go to school!