In Our Own Words

By Feika, Sheku; Kumar, Anoop | New Internationalist, November 2013 | Go to article overview

In Our Own Words


Feika, Sheku, Kumar, Anoop, New Internationalist


'There was some kind of selfishness that led Sierra Leone into 11 years of civil war,' says Patrick Lahai, a double amputee who lives in Bo, Sierra Leone's second-largest city.

'The Revolutionary United Front rebels amputated my hands on 16 June in 1998. It happened in a village called Masebra in the northern part of Sierra Leone. At that time I was just a schoolboy,' he says.

Lahai leftschool at age 11 because he needed to make money. He started a business, travelling to the northern part of the country to buy goods - crafts from local artisans - then bringing them back to the capital, Freetown, to sell. He was there in the north when rebels attacked at one in the morning.

'We were all captured in the village. Some were killed, some were burned alive and some had their hands chopped off. If you were lucky they would only chop offone hand. I was the last boy they cut; they ended up chopping offboth my hands and now I am a double amputee.

'After they cut my hands off, I ran into the bush and spent the night there bleeding. I was there for seven days and seven nights without food or medication. Eventually, a friend went in search of me in the bush and found me lying face down, seemingly dead.'

Lahai's friend helped him reach the Government Hospital in Makeni, the nearest major city, where Catholic Sisters then took him to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The aid organization helped arrange surgery for Lahai. The two bones of his right stump were separated so he could use them to grip. He stayed in the hospital for three months while he learned to use his new 'hand'.

Those who were already living with disabilities when the war broke out in 1991 were faced with abandonment and mistreatment.

Lahai says: 'I have learned to use my arm and now I can use it to do almost everything for myself. I finished school and have started a computer course.

I accepted my disability because the amputation has already been done, so there is no way that I can go away from it. Since this thing happened to me, life has not been easy but I thank God because people love and encourage me.'

Agnes Moseray, now 26, was born with a visual impairment and was just five when the war began. Eight years later she was living in Freetown when rebel groups entered the capital, setting houses on fire and amputating limbs, even melting plastic on people's eyes.

'The fear and panic caused my family and our neighbours to flee but because I was blind I couldn't find my way. I was fortunate to meet a strange woman whose voice I didn't recognize. She shouted, "get back, get back, don't you know the rebels are around?" When I told her I couldn't see she came to my aid. She held my hand and took me to an unfinished building where she fed me what little water and uncooked food she had.'

The next morning, Agnes woke up and came round. Weak and crying she shouted for help. 'The woman came back but suddenly armed rebels appeared so the woman ran away,' she said. 'The rebels asked, "Who are you?" I answered, "I am a human being." Then they asked what I was doing there. When I explained I was visually impaired, one wanted to kill me.

'He said, "She's not fit to live, look how skinny and pale she is; besides, she is of no use in society so let's kill her and go." But his comrade took pity on me and convinced the others to let me live.'

'Many people told me studying science was the worst decision of my life,' says 19-year-old Kartik Sawhney, the first visually impaired student allowed to study science at secondary school in India. 'But I believed in my decision, even though it took eight months for the education authority to allow me in. I was, and still am, passionate about science.'

Kartik is totally blind and lives in New Delhi. He opted to study science after finishing grade 10 in India (school age 16-17). 'Books were my main motivator. My friends and I used to miss other classes and go to the library to study science,' he enthuses. …

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