'Sierra Leone amputees deserve to be treated fairly'
Written by Carol Fouke-Mpoyo
November 2002


Susan Sanderes talks with amputees in Sierra Leone, Africa, during a Church World Service peace delegation visit. Carol Fouke-Mpoyo photo.
 

Some people might react with shock, pity or disgust when faced with several hundred amputees—Sierra Leoneans whose arms, hands, legs or feet had been hacked off by rebels during their nation's brutal, 11-year civil war.

But when UCC executive Susan Sanders met war amputees in a camp in Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital city, she saw each person's enormous potential. Her father lost his left leg above the knee in Okinawa during World War II, when a hand grenade was tossed into his foxhole.

"As the daughter of an amputee, I know that amputees can live full lives," she says. "A friend of my father lost both her legs in a car accident at age 16. She went on to complete college, become a teacher, marry and raise a family."

Led by the Rev. John L. McCullough, Church World Service Executive Director, an eight-person CWS peace delegation went to West Africa in July in response to an invitation from councils of churches in Guinea, The Gambia, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

While there, during an intensive 16-day tour they visited camps for refugees, internally displaced persons, and amputees, and sites destroyed by war. Through the council of churches of Sierra Leone, the UCC's One Great Hour of Sharing offering supports Church World Service and work with uprooted persons.

Rebels ravaged country

Sierra Leone is struggling to balance the need for justice with the need to reintegrate its tens of thousands of ex-combatants, especially the rebels who ravaged the country from north to south, killing, raping, hacking off people's limbs and looting and burning property.

"In Sierra Leone, when we went to Tombudu District, it was very difficult," says Sanders, the UCC's Minister for Global Sharing of Resources, "because we saw where people had been burned alive, where peoples' limbs had been amputated, where bodies had been thrown into a pond. Yet leaders of the community gathered to meet with us. Just the fact that they are there and have returned gives me hope, because they've come back."

Amputees spoke with CWS delegation members about their desire for functional skills training and vocational training. "We are most concerned for the children," says Ishmael Darami, National Amputees' Association Coordinator, who lost both his hands. "They need education."

Mohammed, 16, who lost a leg to a landmine as he was running away from the fighting, said he wants to study computers. Alimamy, a farmer, had both hands chopped off by rebels. Now he's wondering how he will support himself and his family. A 15-year-old girl had her left arm cut off at the shoulder. Everyone else in her family was killed. What will be her future?

A visible reminder

CWS delegation members expressed concern that despite international media attention for the amputees—there are an estimated 1,000 nationwide—they seem to be getting few services, not even sufficient food and medical care. They were disturbed to hear of plans to move these amputees from Freetown to a different camp in the north of Sierra Leone.

"I don't know what the official policy is, but there seems to be a desire to move them out of view rather than to integrate them into society," Sanders says. "They are a visible reminder of a war that people just want to forget.

"Several amputees said they feel resentful that ex-combatants are getting vocational training and other help to reintegrate into society, but their victims, especially the amputees, are getting little or no attention.

"They deserve to be treated fairly. With prostheses they can function. I strongly urge people who work with prostheses to get over there and help."

As Sierra Leone wrestles with reintegration of ex-combatants, it also wrestles with child soldiers. On that issue, Sanders says, "Throwing the very young, who were dragged into this, into prison, will do them no good.

"This is a country that has been brutalized and is struggling and working to find its way back," she says. "We must recognize that the potential for evil is in all of us. And we must care because God calls us to care. These are our neighbors."

Carol Fouke-Mpoyo, Media Liaison for Church World Service and the National Council of Churches, also was part of the delegation. She is a member of The Riverside Church (UCC/ABC) in New York City.

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