Sierra Leone
March 2002 - October 2003
While I may work with refugees and
displaced people in complex
emergencies, I prefer rehabilitation to
emergency response.  I never had a
strong feeling to go to a war zone.   
So, if someone asked me if I wanted
to go to Sierra Leone back in 2000,
I'd honestly say "no".   I never had a
dream to go to Sierra Leone even
though I had been working with Sierra
Leonean refugees in Guinea.  The war
seemed to have no end and it was
encroaching into the area I was
working.  That all changed in the fall of
2001.

On September 15th, some friends
(Chris and Brad) and I, hopped on a
World Food Program helicopter for a
long weekend break in Freetown,
Sierra Leone.  We had been working
like dogs in Guinea and it was a good
time for a rest.  Obviously, there was
no better place to visit than a city
under Martial Law.  We had the deluxe
option of laying out on white sandy
beaches eating lobster under the
armed protection of Blue Helmeted
Nigerians nestled behind their AK 47
in sand bag bunkers.  While the tragic
events in the US earlier in the week
soured our mood, the trip gave me the
bug.  I was hooked.  When  IRC
advertised a Gender-Based Violence
position in January, I jump at the
chance to get back to Sierra Leone.

The past 2 years have been an
incredibly dynamic time for Sierra
Leone.  People had begun the
process of rebuilding their lives that
was shattered by 10 years of nasty
violent war.  While some people  don’t
believe that cooperative international
intervention --- run by the UN, actively
backed by a rich powerful
international player --- can have
beneficial impacts, Sierra Leone is a
testament otherwise.  If it was not for
the neutral legitimacy of UN, the
security maintained by nations
providing Peace Keeping forces and
Great Britain’s financial and military
support, the dreadful nightmare that
Sierra Leoneans suffered would
continue to this day.   

These three pillars – neutral
intervention, security and financial
support- allowed ordinary civilians to
take back control of their lives.  Sierra
Leoneans picked up the pieces; even
though they had seen their children
raped and murdered; even though
they were asked if they wanted long
sleeves or short sleeves as a rusty
machete was held above their limbs;
even though they saw their parents
humiliated before they were killed or
maimed; even though they were
kidnapped, forced to do drugs, marry
the men who raped them or commit
atrocities against their elders; even
though they spent years exiled in a
foreign country often without knowing
if their daughter, son, mother or father
was still alive; even though their
homes had been burnt to ashes.   
Under the right conditions people
started to feel safe to rebuild.  

I was lucky to arrive at the beginning
of this transformation.  Initially I worked
in Bo.  The IRC in Bo assisted
refugees still escaping war in Liberia
and Sierra Leoneans returning to
rebuild their homes and community.  
After six months I was transferred to
Kono.  I spent the last 12 months of
my contract assisting returnees from
refugee camps within the country and
Guinea rebuild there lives.
Cheif's wife.  Kissytown, Kono
Boy at ICC.  Yengema, Kono
Old Man.  Kangama, Kono
Old Woman.  Kagama, Kono
(clic
k to
enlar
ge)
Market Women.  Koidu, Kono