Sierra Leone's Amputees Yearn for the Future

Please take one minute to imagine yourself in the following situation: You are 11 years old. Ah, the joys of childhood. Suddenly though, everyone in your village starts screaming. The brutal rebels have attacked! People panic and try to flee. You run to the safety of your family but upon arriving at your home, you find it engulfed in flames. You peer through the burning wreckage to discover your mother, father and two sisters, all dead. You scream in terror, which attracts the attention of the rebels, some of whom are as young as you. Trained to be cold-blooded killers, they begin beating you to death. Losing consciousness, you plead for your life. They tell you that in order to live, you must give up a leg. You point to your left. They pull out their dull machetes and hack away, leaving you to die in front of the burning grave of your family home. After miraculously surviving the huge loss of blood, you find yourself as one of thousands of Sierra Leone's homeless orphans in a burned-out village with no family, no food and no future. Yet, you dream of rebuilding your life. You make your way to the capitol city, in hopes of finding help, schooling, work, opportunity - any semblance of normality amidst the sudden trauma your childhood has become.

This is Osman's story, which is why he pleaded with me, "Please don't forget my name." I met Osman in Freetown, Sierra Leone, one day after I, on behalf of 100 Friends, had assisted a community of war amputees with $450 worth of food and supplies. Despite their lack of limbs, these veterans have formed a soccer team, unwilling to let their handicap dictate their lives. They have been sponsored to travel to amputee soccer tournaments, but they receive no help with basic living conditions, as their meager shacks in the Aberdeen shanty-town indicate. Ranked as the poorest country on earth in 2000, it is difficult enough for any man to support his family; for those without an arm or leg, the challenge is even greater. Since the war ended six years ago, these amputees have received NO help from their government, which explains why so few have prosthetic limbs, still reduced to lumbering around on crutches.

Miraculously though, despite the hardship they face, these guys refuse to give up and they never stop dreaming. This undestructible positive attitude is why Sierra Leone has captured my heart. Though each has a story as horrofic as Osman's, each of these gentlemen still retain hope. Their scars may be obvious to the naked eye, but their smiles speak volumes about their spirit. Sitting amongst them, I wonder: how would I cope if I had been dealt such a terrifying fate? How about you? Osman lives a meager existence in the east end of Freetown, a rough neighborhood which like many of its inhabitants, is still scarred by the brutal civil war that raged until 2002. Without the money needed to pay for school fees (roughly $150 a year), he cannot receive an education; as a 17 year-old on crutches, there is little he can do to make a living, which is why he has been forced to live as a modern-day indentured servant, washing dishes at a small street-side restaurant in exchange for leftovers to eat and a bare floor to sleep on.

Osman desperately wants an education; he yearns for a future. Though he dreams of a better life, he knows the sad reality: without an education, he will never be able to pull himself from his meager existence. This is why he made me promise I would remember his name. I will not forget and I will try my hardest to make his dreams a reality. Nobody can ever give Osman back his left leg, or for that matter the childhood that was robbed from him on that dreadful day. But for a few hundred dollars a year, together we can provide this young man with a prothetic leg, an education and the hope for a decent future.

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