resilience in the wake of devastation

I am humbled to share this story, to the best that I can. What the players of this soccer team have been through can’t be expressed fully in words, not in mine at least. After meeting with the team, only for a single afternoon, I was very moved. I feel personally compelled to recount their individual stories of grit as well as describe how they came together to inspire themselves and others to keep going. I think we can all learn so much from the hopefulness and kindness embedded within those who have faced the most horrific pasts, for if they are courageous enough to transform hardships into something positive, surely so can we.

The Single Leg Amputee Sports Association

They meet every week, like many small teams do, on Lumley beach to play soccer. Though this is no ordinary team, the players are amputees from across Sierra Leone, who’ve come together to empower one another through sport.

Each player has their own story. However, many of them lost their limbs during the brutal civil war which lasted 11 years. During this time, thousands were subject to rebel forces that spread terror among Sierra Leoneans. Perhaps one of the most notorious methods of spreading terror was not by killing people, but by severing their limbs, forcing them to live out their lives as symbols of sadistic rebel power.

But the players on this team do not let their past define who they are or what they aspire to achieve. They have instead decided to come together to empower one another, building strong friendships. The sheer charisma and positivity radiating from the team was so moving, even before they began to play. As they warmed up, they cheered each other on, and showed off impressive tricks and skills with the ball and their crutches.

The reality of being disabled in Sierra Leone is grim in many cases, which is inexcusable considering the potential they can contribute to society. It’s also appalling coming from a country where care is widely provided for those with disabilities. On top of having to live with a constant reminder of a devastating era, where thousands of people lost their families and homes, many amputees are seen as worthless by their families, as it is very difficult to get a job when you’re disabled. They are thus isolated from society, on top of what they’ve already been through. The Single Leg Amputee Sports Association was established in 2001, in the hopes of empowering amputees through playing sports. Not only do the teams bring back confidence and purpose to those who’ve endured the unimaginable, but they provide a support network for people with disabilities.

Eleanor Massah Abdulia

Eleanor is a soccer player, a social worker, a mother, an entrepreneur, an ambassador, and an activist for disabled individuals. Not to mention incredibly brave and resilient. She was the one who introduced my mother and I to the single leg amputee soccer team, welcoming us to their weekly practice. She is passionate about sharing her story, breaking down barriers, and changing the stigma surrounding those who are amputees. Not only has she documented her story and written poems about her experiences, Eleanor aspires to create the first amputee clothing line in Sierra Leone. She often shares inspirational messages on her social media pages (linked below).

Below I have attached, with Eleanor’s permission, a segment of her story. The final version is still being written.

When Your World Collapsed, by Eleanor Abdulai

“I want to tell my story,  I believe that it will give others hope, and will help people to believe in themselves that is to say regardless the circumstance there is always a way, and giving up  should not be an option… “

… “We all looked haggard and tired and started the long trek to our beloved village. As we ran see adults, young children and women carrying guns. They were clad in rag tag outfits like mad people. The other groups were carrying big bundles and were setting homes on fire. It was strange I didn’t understand one minute we were playing and next am in fear of my life. I kept running and taking cover not to be caught. On our long scary walk home, I accidentally stepped on a land mine that totally ripped off the lower part of my right leg. It was a devastating moment as I did not have an understanding of why it happened and how fatal it was… The pain was excruciating, it was beyond devastation. With no recourse to sanitation and medical assistance, my parents were worried that I was going to die with infection. The jungle air was stale with gun smoke, marijuana, feces and more. We stayed a whole month hiding in the jungle. My beautiful mother had the wisdom to use traditional medicine and herbs to support my leg. The constant gunshots from the distance reminded us of why we fled in the first place, I silently wished my live was over. I could not receive conventional treatment, and my parents began to fear that I might have an infection.  Every day was too painful for a young girl to bear, as the day went by with no real medication to support the healing it was clear that my leg was infected, chunks of rotten flesh fell off with insects crawling all over. My desire was to die, I was tired and fed up with the pain and anguish and no hope of healing or going back to my beloved village to access conventional treatment. It was so bad that I made several attempts to take my life but to no avail. My mum used herbs and tree back to wrap my leg every day. She did the best she could but the pain didn’t seize. When the pain gets severe, I could not scream as my shrill voice will invite danger from the gun men who were hunting us. I had to be given herbs that put me to sleep. After one month of pain and suffering, we were alerted by the civil militia that they have routed the gun men completely from our village. My mum’s eyes told a story , the relief, it seem like there was hope, her eyes opened widely as tears stream down the corners onto her cheek, but the silent fear still prevail she didn’t know if her beautiful daughter will make it home…”

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