Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Here's a Story we found on Fatmata :

For the last 11 years, Fatmata Kamara, a beautiful 17-year-old, has rarely let people see her radiant smile. Haunted by all that she has lost during the savage decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone, Fatmata has had little to smile about. During the war, she was taken from her family to work as a slave and the “wife” of a warlord.

Fatmata’s Story

In the abandoned house she shares with other homeless girls in the district of Kono, Fatmata recalled the terrifying time when rebels rampaged through the village where she was staying with relatives, looting and killing everyone, including her aunt and uncle.

"I was hiding under a bed with two other children," she remembered. "There was chaos everywhere. One of the rebels came and took me and hid me in the mosque, where the Imam prays. I thought I was going to die. I'll always remember that day, I'll never forget it."

Fatmata, one of only two survivors from the village on that fateful day, was barely six years old. She was taken to a rebel stronghold and forced to work under harsh conditions as a servant. "We had to work all day while they would curse my mother and abuse me," she recalled. When she got older, Fatmata was forced to become the second wife of one of her rebel captors.

When the civil war finally ended in 2001, Fatmata found her way to Kono, which was nearly destroyed. Too old for a foster home, she has had to fend for herself, along with other recently released or displaced girls, some of whom have children of their own to support. All of them missed out on years of formal education, so now they do what they can to survive, even if for some it means prostitution.

Fatmata clings to memories of her lost childhood. "I remember when I was living with my family how everything was easy," she sighed. "I miss my family desperately, especially my mother and my uncle."

Now that Fatmata is no longer living with the rebels, her deepest desire is to return home and be reunited with her family — not an easy task since she's not sure where her native village is located. And even if she finds it, there is no guarantee that her family will still be there or that they're even alive, because during the ten years of conflict, two-thirds of Sierra Leone’s population of nearly five million people was internally displaced.

Then, there is the problem of acceptance. Although Fatmata has learned to survive without her family, she has never given up hope that she will eventually find them. But, as with many girls, family acceptance after so many years away is a big concern.

She took a big step forward by sharing her story with Mariama, a social worker for the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Using a technique called "video tracing”, Mariama made a tape of Fatmata describing her family and village.

Then T-Boy, an IRC assistant program manager in Kono, took the hand held video camera to the village where Fatmata thought might be home, hoping that somebody will recognize her or know where to find her parents.

Several weeks later, T-Boy returns. With him, he brought a video message from the village. As he played the videotape, all the other girls in Fatmata's house gathered around to watch. Fatmata saw instantly that her family had been found. Through her tears, she recognized her mother’s face for the first time in 11 years and her eyes lit up with happiness. All of the other girls hug her and erupt in songs of joy. T-Boy hoped that Fatmata's successful family tracing would encourage the other girls to share their stories as well.

Since many girls are concerned about their family's acceptance, this video messaging program is a safe and easy way to tell their families that they are alive and want to come home as well as to find out it their families want them back. 

In Fatmata's case, her parents can't believe she's alive. "When she was abducted, I cried for an entire year," reflected her mother. "I used to dream of Fatmata. It's been so long that I can’t even remember a time when we were together."

What’s Next for Fatmata?

Fatmata’s wishes came true. Her mother wants to see her daughter, as does her whole family and community. She still loves her and wants to see her to come home. "This is the best day for me," Fatmata said, flashing a luminous smile. 

Now that Fatmata is living with her family, she is thinking about opening her own business. Like the many other girls who have returned home through the IRC's "video tracing" project, Fatmata has hope that she can rebuild her life.

What Can You Do?

The UN sponsored a peace agreement, which calls for the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of children who had been abducted by the rebels and forced to fight. As a result, a UNICEF sponsored agency, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), launched a special project to identify and care for girls who were forced to serve as wives, sex slaves, cooks, labourers or sometimes fighters. The IRC helps locate their families, arrange reunions, and help assist in the long and difficult process of community reintegration.

Learn more about the issues facing Sierra Leone by visiting the UNDP in Sierra Leone and the UNICEF site on Sierra Leone. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others, offer concrete ways to become part of the solution.

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