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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Account Name: Zainab Kamara Trust Fund
Account No.: 210-049-956-01
Union Trust Bank
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Account No.: 210-049-956-01
Swift Code: UTBSSLFR
Intermediary Bank: Ghana International
1 st Floor, 10 Old Broad Street
London EC2 N1DW
Swift Code: GHIBGB2L