Sierra Leone

19 April 2013

In a tragedy surpassed recently only by genocide in Rwanda and the ongoing Congo implosion, Sierra Leone endured a long brutal civil war (1991-2002) launched by diamond-funded RUF rebels who committed incredible atrocities. Tens of thousands of people were killed. Rebels often used machetes to hack off the hands, arms, or legs of noncombatants they did not kill.

External pressure prolonged the war as naive international groups made the government negotiate with the terrorists and even reward them with power-sharing. This empowered and strengthened the rebels rather than pacifying them.

Bad press forced de Beers and other buyers to stop trafficking in "blood diamonds," thus reducing the rebels' income. But, ultimately, even the most naive "antiwar" observers had to admit ― too late for thousands more left without limbs ― that a military solution was required. To his credit, Tony Blair sent UK troops to help the former colony oust the vicious rebels once and for all.

Much of the person-to-person work in the poorest corners of Africa is done by church and interdenominational groups. Our itinerary included a heart-wrenching tour of a new clinic run by a small dedicated group called Greatest Goal Ministries, based in Seattle under the undaunting leadership of Lynn Pelton, a former Peace Corps volunteer here.
Lynn Pelton and many of her team at the Greatest Goal Ministries clinic.
The day we visited GGM another visitor was Sia Koroma,
the First Lady of Sierra Leone and a former nurse.
Along with basic medical services, GGM operates a sports program to engage young men who suffered amputations or other disabilities during the war and to give them the esteem and camaraderie of soccer teams. (Uniforms were donated by an American tourist who saw the clinic last year.)

GGM's soccer/football teams playing on the beach.

Other scenes from the beach by Freetown

Another beach ballet with soccer choreography
The Tacaguma Chimpanzee Sanctuary is a place for abandoned and orphaned chimps. Here as elsewhere in Africa they are endangered by the popularity of "bush meat" as well as the use of young chimps as pets (later abandoned).

Off the coast of Sierra Leone and not far from Freetown: Banana Islands, two long, small islands that are home to a fishing village with a few hundred easy-going people, along with a simple school, two churches, and some interesting tourist bungalows.

Our landing spot on Banana Island.
Eating a mango in the backyard hammock after a morning of fishing.