Category Archives: Health

Zainab Kamara: Crippled NOT Disabled

By Fatima Babih

Having been in Sierra Leone for the past four weeks, wearing various proverbial hats, one of them as President of the Ansarul Alumni Association, my secondary school Alma mater. In this capacity, I had to visit a few of the many schools that are managed by our school’s Mission around the country.

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By mid last week, I had visited schools in Bo (South), Kono (East) and Freetown (West). Next on my list was a school in a town called Mile 91 (North). This is the town where Zainab Kamara lives. She is the crippled woman whose video story went viral a couple of weeks earlier. Since then, women on my DIAMONDS Women’s whatsapp forum had sent me messages encouraging me to look for her while in Sierra Leone. After finally being able to watch the video, I too grew interest in seeing her, but did not quite know how.

On Thursday, October 13, 2016, the day of my visit to the school in Mile 91, I toured with the vice principal, spoke to an assembly of students, and to faculty and administrators, as I do on all my visits. At the end of my tour, I asked whether anyone could show me where the famous Zainab Kamara lives in this town. I was then told that one of her daughters is a student at this very school. What a Blessing! I was then given permission to see her.

Shortly after, a beautiful, pleasant and neatly dressed young lady came to greet me. Hawanatu and I had a nice brief discussion, as she had to return to class. She assured me her mother and siblings are doing well. I asked whether she needed school fees, she informed me that she has been given a scholarship by an NGO, One Girl Salone. She explained that this organization has paid her tuition for the year, provided her with books, uniform and other school supplies.

I then encouraged her to make good use of this scholarship and any other opportunities she gets, to stay in school, study hard and make her mother proud by becoming a professional woman in the future. I made this shy 15-year-old blush in the presence of her vice principal when I asked her to promise not to get involved with men or get pregnant like most girls are doing these days. She promised me she would not and would stay and finish school.

Then I told her that I would like to enroll her into the DIAMONDS Girls Circle, a program of our nonprofit organization Girls LEAD Change, Inc., which works to help adolescent girls in disadvantaged communities combat negative societal trends, such as teenage pregnancy. Sierra Leone has one of the highest incidents of teenage pregnancy, even though many NGOs are offering scholarships to increase the number of girls in school, a high number of girls drop out of school daily due to pregnancy. Girls LEAD Change is trying to reverse this trend so that girls could reach their highest potential.

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I arrived and parked a distance away from Zainab’s place, as there is no auto road to her house. I sent word to her. She quickly appeared down the road to receive me; in the typical way a Sierra Leonean receives a long lost relative, very warm and welcoming. She invited me to her house and led the way. She offered me a sit and we talked like sisters. I was concerned about hers and her children’s health. She assured me there were no issues of chronic illnesses; except for occasional bouts with malaria and the common cold, they were all doing well.

We talked about the challenges she is facing with the small house in which she and her children live. She talked about Umaru Fofanah and others who were trying to help her with this issue. She introduced her two sons who had just returned from school, the boisterous and polite boys greeted me with big smiles.

I told Zainab I had just met her older daughter who attends one of my alma mater in town. I told her how the women in my organization and I felt it was important for me to meet her in person so we could have an ongoing relationship henceforth. Which she welcomed. I asked for her permission to enroll her daughter in our DIAMONS Girls program. She happily approved.

With Zainab on her porch

Zainab & Fatima

Of course, our discussion led to her famous garden. She gladly took me round, showing me the various fruits and vegetables she is growing. I asked whether she sells them. She told me she does not, that she shares her harvests with her family, friends and neighbors. She also said that thieves take a lot of them. She pointed to the banana tree near her kitchen, which had no fruits on it because thieves had plucked off the bunch the night before, probably to sell. These thieves are obviously able-bodied individuals with functioning legs, eyes, arms, etc., stealing what a crippled woman had labored to plant.

As we were saying our goodbyes and passing the garden near her house, I expressed admiration for the huge garden eggs. She asked if I liked garden eggs? I told her I did very much and was planning to buy some at the next junction on my way to Freetown. Right away she started plucking garden eggs for me. Before long, Zainab was sending me off with two small bags of garden eggs. Who is the “disabled” woman now? I do not think I could survive long if I had to maintain a garden in order to eat.

On my way to see her, I thought I was visiting a crippled “disabled” woman. After our visit, however, her physical deformity was no longer prominent in my thoughts about her. Instead, I remember a gracious hostess who infused me with the human spirit; she made every effort to make me feel comfortable in her home and did not want me to leave empty handed. At no moment during my visit did I feel that Zainab wanted anything from me. An epitome of the Sierra Leonean women I grew up with, she reminded me so much of my grandmother, MaBatu (Habibatu Swaray), God rests her soul, in whose home no guest slept hungry; regardless of what time they arrived.

Zainab is passionate about her garden, which serves not only to feed her family, but also as a way for her to give to others as best as she could. This amazing woman is a positive reminder that no matter our situation in life, we must strive to sustain ourselves and maintain our dignity as human beings by using whatever physical and mental ability with which we are endowed.

I therefore do not see Zainab Kamara as “disabled,” despite her crippled condition. Rather, I see her as “disadvantaged.”  A woman with no legs to walk with and no formal education, in a country where you are already at a disadvantage as a woman; the odds are stacked against Zainab and other women with physical and mental disabilities in Sierra Leone. There are no dignified provisions by her government and society, for her to maintain her household and raise her children. She has chosen to do so by using her hands, brain and God-given talent, to function in a society where people in her condition often become beggars in the streets.

Zainab's Kittens

Zainab’s Kittens

This phenomenal woman does not need handouts from us; instead, she needs us to lend a hand in helping her do better what she has already been doing to sustain her family.

To avoid duplication of efforts, we are supporting Umaru Fofanah’s lead in helping to secure financial resources for Zainab and her children. He is a reputable Sierra Leonean journalist and BBC reporter who has taken interest in Zainab’s story.  He has set up a trust fund for her in Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom. For now, we encourage members of our DIAMONDS Women’s forum, Mama Salone readers and the general public to please give Zainab a hand by donating to her trust funds.

Thank you in advance & May Almighty God Reward your Generosity!!

As time goes on, we will share information on other ways of helping and we welcome any ideas of how best we can support this dignified phenomenal woman, Zainab Kamara of Mile 91, Sierra Leone.

Here is the Trust Fund information culled from Umaru Fofanah’s Politico article:

Domestic Contributions:

Account Name:  Zainab Kamara Trust Fund

Account No.: 210-049-956-01

Union Trust Bank

Freetown, Sierra Leone

International Contributions:

Account No.: 210-049-956-01

Swift Code: UTBSSLFR

Intermediary Bank: Ghana International 

1 st Floor, 10 Old Broad Street

London EC2 N1DW

United Kingdom

Swift Code: GHIBGB2L 

Reference

http://www.politicosl.com/articles/make-her-walk-again-how-help-disabled-single-mother-four

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Lives In Sierra Leone Endangered by Government Officials: Trash Gate

On January 9, 2016, a newspaper in Beirut, Lebanon, The Daily Star, reported, “Sierra Leone agrees to take in Lebanon trash.” The report goes on to say that this comes after a nearly six months trash crisis in Lebanon. The country had apparently entered into contract with a company in the Netherlands, Howa BV to search for a dumping ground for its non recyclable waste. In other words, it useless trash.

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Photo Credit: The Daily Star. Lebanon Trash

It took this newspaper report in Lebanon for people of Sierra Leone to know that their government was about to enter into a secret agreement to bring roughly 200,000 tons of trash into the country from Lebanon. Otherwise, people in Sierra Leone would have never found out. If ever, they may have found out after the deal was done, every participant was enriched from the proceeds.  Perhaps the poverty ridden masses would have found out after some mysterious illness overtook them.

In a letter from a Sierra Leone government official, dated January 7, 2016, Alhaji I.B. Kargbo, the Special Adviser to the President of Sierra Leone, advises the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce, with whom the agreement is to be signed,

If the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Chief of Staff agree on the legality of the transaction, then there will be no difficulty to sign an agreement between the government of Sierra Leone and your Chamber…It should be noted that the President, Dr. Ernest Koroma, has the final say on this matter.

Civil Society has no say

According to Alhaji Kargbo’s advise above, civil society, as stakeholders who pay the ultimate price should this turn out to be disastrous for health and lives, they are clearly being overlooked and dismissed as irrelevant in the matter.

Alhaji I.B. Kargbo, at the date of signing his letter of acceptance for the Lebanese trash, was holding the title of “Special Adviser to the President” as well as a newly “Elected Member of Parliament.” This shows that in Sierra Leone, it does not take a high level government official to enter into contracts that may potentially  harm the people. Also as an Elected Member of Parliament, he is supposed to represent and serve the people, as such, overlooking the people’s relevance in his dealings of this sort is injurious and a disservice to them.

As a preemptive defense, Alhaji Kargbo states in his letter, that the trash “…should not be of any toxic nature…be part of development of fertilization for agricultural purpose.”

He also stated in a BBC radio interview that the purpose of the trash was for his Dutch business contact to set up a fertilizer plant in Sierra Leone.

If this were true, it makes one wonder:

  • What should come first: the fertilizer plant or the trash?
  • Why isn’t there any record of exchanges regarding a fertilizer plant but there is an exchange for trash transfer?
  • Is it in the terms of reference of the “special adviser” to the President to broker such deals?

Apparently, this is how all “investment” contracts are entered into in Sierra Leone. It does not have to be in the job description of the contracting official. The evidence of this danger is in numerous parts of the country, where mining and non-food agricultural land grabs are taking place. People in those regions are enduring a plethora of injustices from effects of contracts that they were never part of making.

A boy walks through the river in Kroo Bay slum looking for scrap metal to sell. The river is effectively a giant sewage and everyday new garbage arrives in the water from the hills around. Kroo Bay, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

A boy walks through the river in Kroo Bay slum looking for scrap metal to sell. The river is effectively a giant sewage and everyday new garbage arrives in the water from the hills around. Kroo Bay, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

This is a country that has never figured out what to do with its own trash

But our government officials want us to believe that we have room to accept thousands of tons of trash from other countries, in the name of “developing agricultural fertilizer;” when in fact the Lebanese news paper report indicates that specialists have declared the Lebanese waste “infectious and compacted.”

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Slum in Freetown Sierra Leone Living on heaps of trash

The worst danger is the fact that this deal, and others like it, are motivated by financial incentives. The Lebanese are ready to pay millions of dollars to get rid of their trash, and a few individuals in Sierra Leone stand to gain a great deal. Alhaji I.B. Kargbo may become a scapegoat and released from his post to shut us up and defuse any tension at this particular moment.

However, this deal might go through at a later date, after a more discrete transaction can be brokered. There are many more officials in Sierra Leone government who are, at any point in time, striking deals just like this. We often find out when out of no where, our people start dying like flies from a mysterious foreign disease they cannot pronounce.

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Susan’s Bay Slum. Sierra Leone Photo Credit: Zander’s Blog

There must be an uproar of civil society. Why do we only rise up when the issue is “politics?”

The people of Sierra Leone must demand transparency and detail information about all such contract deals for which the people are the ultimate victims.

Reference

The Daily Star – Lebanon

A CALL ON SIERRA LEONE MINISTER: EDUCATE OUR GIRLS AND PROSECUTE THEIR RAPERS

OPEN LETTER

 

Dr. Minkailu Bah, Minister
Ministry of Education, Science and Technology
New England Freetown

Sierra Leone, West Africa

 

Dear Honorable Minister Bah:

With all due respect Sir, your April 2015 education policy, which excludes pregnant girls from continuing their education is like putting plaster on a jigger toe. Your policy puts the blame of girls’ pregnancy solely on the girls and shields the men who impregnate them.

But we all know that the root cause of teenage pregnancy in Sierra Leone is the appetite of older men for young girls. So by punishing only the girls, you are leaving the jigger in our national toe. Your policy is a first aid band-aid covering a jigger, which needs to be removed.

Many of the worldwide reactions decry your policy, pointing to its  adverse effects on girls’ education and the further depletion of women’s socioeconomic status in Sierra Leone. As women who grew up in Sierra Leone, we have always known that pregnancy ended a girl’s schooling in our country, due to stigma and shaming of the girl. No pregnant girl wants to sit beside her peers with her projected stomach. We have always hoped for a solution.

We are surprised that a government that is legally and morally obligated to protect their rights as children, has formally implemented a policy that further erodes girls’ basic and human rights, which are protected by national and international laws.

We posit here that pregnant adolescent girls, in majority of the cases in Sierra Leone, are victims of rape, in violation of the laws of Sierra Leone. A policy that makes them the only “culprits,” while shielding the adult men who impregnate them, will not only fail, it will make girls even more vulnerable.

OLDER men WHO IMPREGNATE GIRLS must be prosecuted as a fundamental remedY FOR a national crisis.

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