Michael spends a relaxing moment with his son, John, on the veranda of their home. John decides to brush his father’s hair while Michael begins his story. He talks about his life before and during Sierra Leone civil war.
Before the war my father worked as a police officer and my mother sold things as a business woman. I became a professional footballer before my eighteenth birthday.
The Sierra Leonean government gave me an incentive to play for the under-seventeen division. I played as a defender with jersey numbers two, four, five, and seven. I trained with my teammates at Brima Attouga Mini Stadium in Freetown, named after Sierra Leone’s famous goalkeeper. Our coach, Teddy, played as a midfielder for the national team so our training was very intense.
Coach Teddy substituted me into the second half of our first game, but I sustained a muscle injury soon after. I had to sit on the bench for some weeks without playing and I felt very frustrated. After recovering I had the opportunity to play around Africa. We went to Morocco, Tunisia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Egypt, and Burkina Faso.
I lost my hand on January 20, 1999 around ten o’clock on a Wednesday morning. By then I was recovering from a hernia operation on both sides of my body. I remember a police officer named Sandy who ordered me to carry a bag of bulgur for some distance and he didn’t care about my pain. He let me go after that, but then I ran into armed government soldiers. I recognized one of my previous football teammates among them and he noticed me too. By that time he joined the military. He instructed his colleagues to amputate me. They grabbed my arm and cut my hand off. I fell to the ground and another soldier stabbed me in my other arm with his bayonet. Many amputations were carried out by government soldiers. We know most of them who did it. These brutal acts usually happened during the daytime.
Michael becomes quiet, gazes past his veranda, and wipes away tears.
Whenever I remember that part of my life I don’t feel good. Amputees are not respected in society. We are totally denied justice. People don’t even want to know about us. Some people photograph us, go with the pictures to their country, and make money. We don’t see any of it. I’m really tired of this life.
Michael goes into his house and returns with his collection of family photos. He feels cheerful as he looks through them. He points out his children and proudly remarks about their growth over the years. Michael has three sons and one daughter.
I get courage when I see my family photos. Some people don’t have anybody to care for them and many of my companions died from a lack of faith and courage. When I see my children, I feel that all is not lost; there is still hope. I will make it for them.
Michael finds a photo of himself in a green shirt and grey trousers holding some books. It was taken just after a lecture on masonry at the Institute of Public Administration and Management (IPAM) in Freetown.
I started begging in 2000, but my younger sister advised me against it—she didn’t want to see me suffering in the city streets. She told me to find something to do, but I knew it would be difficult. I tried anyways.
After the war I took classes in masonry, social counseling, and Red Cross first aid. I applied to many jobs but never got hired. If you don’t have political connections then you’re out of the running. I even received career training in storekeeping, purchasing, and resource management through Cambridge International College. I still have no luck finding work.
Our disabilities prevent us from getting jobs. I see my brothers and sisters begging in the street, the majority of us do it. I’m sick of it. I don’t want us to be in the system anymore as lifetime beggars. If I had the opportunity I’d want to continue my education.
Today I do some agriculture work to support my family. My three youngest children live with my sister now because I cannot fully support them. A father shouldn’t send their children to school without the food they deserve.
Michael changes topics to talk about the aid he’s received over the years from different organizations.
I used to live in the biggest amputee camp on Aberdeen Road in Freetown. At that time, the Inter-Religious Council would give us food items, spices, and rice inside black plastic bags. They also gave used clothing. We were, and still are, living purely on handouts. We get everybody’s leftovers.
America, Britain, Spain, Italy, and other countries helped us after the war. Eliza from the Norwegian Refugee Council helped build houses for us through her organization. I met with her several times. The Sierra Leone government expected her to hand over all the money and resources for the project, but she refused. She only asked them to provide the necessary land for the project. Charles Margai, former Minister of Internal Affairs, advised Solomon Ekuma Berewa, the Vice-President at the time, to work with chiefdom heads to acquire the land. We received our homes after that.
Each home had one table, three chairs, two foam mattress, two bed frames, and four pillows. The organization provided pillowcases and bedspreads, but never gave us mosquito nets. Neither the Norwegians nor the Sierra Leone government helps with maintenance. My house leaks during the rainy season so we use buckets to catch the water.
Michael moves from his veranda to the side of his house to show it’s deterioration over the years. He explains and demonstrates the problem he’s facing with his windows.
My wooden window shutters rotted and the locks spoiled so I tie my window shut with a shoelace now.
Michael continues his story with the Commission’s words in the back of his mind. He concludes with advice to other war-wounded Sierra Leoneans, his children, the government, and others.
Politicians say they want to help disabled people, but they forgot about us after winning their elections. Sugar-coated lies and false promises. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report says that we should receive medical and psychological care but I never did. At the end of each month we should be receiving incentives to help us. We don’t want to be lifetime beggars.
We have not held a meeting with President Bio so we don’t know what kind of plan he has for us. We feel stressed whenever a government changes. I would like the free education initiative to include university scholarships for children of war-wounded and disabled citizens.
I advise other amputees, war-wounded, and disabled people to be hopeful and courageous. Do your level best to educate your children. If you have the strength and energy, try to find some way to help yourselves. As for me, I try to engage myself in agricultural work.
To my children—I want you to be serious about your education and future plans. Learn about Sierra Leone’s war so that you will never repeat it. Learn from our mistakes and from what has happened. After I pass away I want you to serve as advisors and ambassadors to others. Tell them “This is how our father struggled because of the war.” I want you all to become independent; don’t rely on other people too much. Use whatever little you have in the best possible way.
To the Sierra Leone government—we cannot sit and wait for you. Every day you talk about reparations. I want to advise President Bio to remember all of the recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report. It’s not too late to start implementing them now. War victims and disabled people need proper medication, education, and psychosocial support. We need advice and help. Hopefully one day somebody in the government calls me and says “I saw your story and want to give you advice—this is what you should do.” I would be so happy then. Teach me how to fish.
To people who want to forget the war or think that it’s old history—it’s not easy for me to forgot. I remember what happened to me whenever I look at my arm. Instead of forgetting about the war, let us remember it and stop another one from ever happening. I want today’s youth to deviate from violence and corruption. Corruption is an epidemic that brought us to where we are today. I hope President Bio can stop corrupt practices as he has promised. He will face many challenges.