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Artificial limbs change Sierra Leone lives


3:00 P.M. EST Nov. 10, 2011

Lappia Amara works with amputees who lost their limbs during Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war. He manages the United Methodist Church’s Artificial Limb Fitting Center in Bo. UMNS photos by Phileas Jusu.

Lappia Amara works with amputees who lost their limbs during Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war. He manages the United Methodist Church’s Artificial Limb Fitting Center in Bo. UMNS photos by Phileas Jusu.
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“Sound of gunshots echoed throughout the village. People were running helter-skelter. I grabbed my sewing machine and dragged it inside the house, was about to return to the veranda to snatch other materials when a gun-wielding, furious-looking young man halted me at the door and commanded that I return with him inside.

“Did you hear the shots?” he yelled at me.

“Yes, I did and that’s why I’m packing out,” I replied nervously as I retreated.

“Where are the rest of the occupants in this house?” he demanded.

“They are all gone,” I said.

Juana Kamara, an amputee now living in Mattru Village, near city in southern Sierra Leone, recalled the incident that led to the loss of his right leg during the early days of the Sierra Leone civil conflict that lasted 11 years.

Kamara, a former tailor who is now a radio mechanic, is one of the hundreds who benefited from the Artificial Limb Fitting Center in Bo that has been giving hope to amputees from the Sierra Leone civil strife. He got his first prosthetic limb from the center, which is funded by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, in 2002 when the Sierra Leone war officially was declared ended.

The Revolutionary United Front rebels attacked Kamara’s eastern Sierra Leone village, Bunumbu — a three-hour walk from the Liberia border — in 1991. The war began in that part of the country after rebels crossed the border from Liberia.

“There were moments when rebels would enter the village and fire in the air,” Kamara recalled. “The people would run away, and the rebels would loot their property and ask a few young people they captured to carry the load into Liberia.”

Juana Kamara says his artificial leg allows him to work and take care of his family.
Juana Kamara says his artificial leg allows him to work and take care of his family.
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Fortunes change

Kamara’s fortune changed in a rapid succession of events as he picked up the story of the young man who entered his home. “Before long, the man interrogating me was joined by another young man who said his colleague was wasting time talking to me and that he should shoot me instead. Before I knew it, a third armed man joined them,” he said.

“Let us don’t kill him. He is very handsome,” the third combatant suggested. “Instead, let us do a thing to him that he’ll never forget in his life,” Kamara said, repeating the exchange.

“What then do you want to do to me?” Kamara said he asked.

The third rebel searched under Kamara’s bed and came up with a machete. He ordered Kamara to go with them to the back of the compound. The group went out with one rebel in front and another at Kamara’s back to prevent him from escaping.

In the backyard, the rebels held Kamara’s right foot to a stick and cut it with the machete, leaving him in pain. They left without taking anything from his house.

Kamara’s brother and the rest of the family who had escaped before the rebels entered later returned to the gruesome site of a crawling Kamara with his mutilated leg bleeding profusely. Kamara said he asked for a knife, which he used to chop off the skin of flesh holding the lower limb to his thigh. Then his elder brother carried Kamara on his back to Kailahun, the district headquarter town, to seek medical attention but could not get help for him. Kamara later was taken to city in the south.

Making a new life

Kamara and his family now stay in an amputee camp in Mattru that a Norwegian organization built. His prosthetic limb care is provided by the United Methodist Artificial Limb Fitting Center, managed by Lappia Amara.

Amara visits the amputees in Mattru regularly to see to their needs. Sometimes he repairs the prosthetic limbs; other times, he replaces worn-out prosthetic limbs with new ones.

“My life has changed drastically since I received the artificial limb,” Kamara said. “Before I got the limb, I used to feel very shy to go outside for fear that people might think I was a beggar if they saw me out in the street. So I stayed indoors for most of the time.” Most amputees resorted to begging after the end of the war, but Kamara comes from a culture that frowns on begging.

The artificial limb renewed Kamara’s self-esteem and enabled him, once again, to fend for himself and his family. He repairs faulty shortwave and FM radio sets for the Mattru community. He says people from all over the community bring their radio sets and tape recorders for repair and pay for his service. He also plants potatoes close to his home, and the family sells leftover potatoes after they use what they need.

“Since I received the artificial limb, I have learnt to walk normally — so normal that one wouldn’t know I’m amputated when I’m in trousers,” Kamara said. “I own a bicycle and can ride well. I ride to Bo and back frequently.”

Amara runs a mobile clinic for amputees. On average, he treats more than 30 patients a month throughout the country. The clinics last for two weeks in each location. During mobile clinic visits, he meets amputees in their locations and prepares the limbs for them. Another group, The Norwegian Friends, built amputee camps in most district headquarter towns after the war.

Reaching out to amputees

The amputees fend for themselves after receiving the artificial limbs from the United Methodist Church. Amara says the prosthetic legs last much longer than those provided by other organizations around the country, and they are provided free from funds received from UMCOR.

“Before I travel, I put out notices usually stating that the United Methodist Artificial Limb Fitting Center would be providing limbs for amputees on a stated date and ask amputees around the location to attend.

“Usually, we take their measurements on the first day and ask them to come for practice on a stated date after which they take their prosthetic limbs home,” Amara said.

Amara’s dream is to have a vehicle to take staff and materials to organize more mobile clinics each year. Now, he can organize the clinics only in the dry season when commercial vehicles do not charge as much as much as they do during the rainy season when the roads are bad.

Theodore R. Warnock, a missionary for special projects with UMCOR Health, said the program hopes to expand its services by visiting amputees who cannot afford to come from their villages to the center, providing artificial hands to upper-arm amputees, issuing wheelchairs to polio victims and offering limb-fitting camps.

*Jusu is a United Methodist communicator based in Sierra Leone.

News media contact: Tafadzwa Mudambanuki, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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