Heartache and Hope in Sierra Leone
Ethan Faber (standing) helping a reporter and editor put together a story at SLBC in Freetown.
His name is Mohammed. He sits next to me. His story comes quickly. Father died when he was boy. Mom lived in a small village with six kids and nobody would marry her again. She was illiterate and sold smoked fish in the market to make ends meet. His first school was five miles from his family hut. He had no shoes, He never missed a day.
A few years later he managed to be taken on at a Catholic school in Freetown, the capital. The nuns made him do chores for three hours after school in lieu of fees. He never complained. January, 1998. Freetown falls to the rebels in Sierra Leone’s bloody civil war.
Drug addicted child soldiers roam the streets during “Operation No Living Thing.” Mohammed and his brother try to escape the city at night. They’re cornered by the child soldiers. Pushed up against a mango tree. The leader raises his AK-47. Mohammed sees the dull copper glint of a bullet cartridge moving from the clip into the firing chamber. The weapon is cocked. Silence. Sweat. The gun is lowered.
The soldiers tell the boys to run. Mohammed looks up at me at this point in his story and says, “Allahu Akbar.” I return his smile, grasp his hands and agree with my whole heart. Barely a week here and I am already weeping.
Mohammed continues. He stayed in school. Top of his class. Accepted to Fourah Bay University in Freetown. Graduated in Engineering. He now works for a petroleum company. Two years ago he sent his mother to Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage, an honour so prestigious and so rare here that she will forever be addressed now as “Hajj” before people speak the rest of her name. Mohammed has offers to work overseas but he won’t leave.
In one simple sentence he tells me what needs to happen to save one of the world’s most desperate places.
“For generations in my country, too many educated and powerful people have put themselves first, seeking only personal enrichment and never thinking about the good of our nation, but I am not like those people.” Mohammed, I will never forget you.