The Sierra Leone Civil War began on 23 March 1991 when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), supported by Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), invaded Sierra Leone in an attempt to overthrow the Momoh government, sparking a ghastly 11-year conflagration that enveloped the country and left over 50,000 dead, and over ½ million people disabled. The infrastructure of the country, primarily rural, was effectively demolished. Mines in the countryside remain active and a hazard to this day.
My name is Aisha Khadar Desince, I have been in the USA for 15 years before my first visit to Sierra Leone, the mountains, the scent of the countryside, the memories I have of the villages, hospitality, fresh food, the love of family direct or indirect, the hugs, the open arms, the Mama’s, Papa’s, that are not related to you by blood but raised you as their own. Fresh bread, cookies baking from my grandmothers bakery that you could smell 20+ miles away from her home, Home where everyone was welcome and a meal to greet you. Proud, kind, loving people you always miss.
These were my memories before the civil war commonly known as the Blood Diamond war hit my people, the core of my soul, the inspirational drive of my soul.
During the first year of the war, the RUF took control of large areas of territory in Eastern and Southern Sierra Leone rich in alluvial diamonds, the real source of the conflict. The government’s futile response to the RUF and the disorder in government diamond production resulted in a military coup-d’état in April 1992 by the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC). By the end of 1993 the Sierra Leone Army (SLA) had succeeded in pushing the RUF rebels back to the Liberian border, but the RUF recovered and fighting continued. In March 1995, Executive Outcomes (EO), a South Africa-based private military company, was hired to repel the RUF. An elected civilian government was installed in March 1996 and the retreating RUF signed the Abidjan Peace Accord. However, the government terminated its contract with EO before the accord could be implemented and hostilities began again. While all this was going on the country and its people were being systematically destroyed.
Years after the war that lasted 11 years was over, my heart sang songs of returning home to see the damage. To my bitter surprise it was an understatement of what I saw in the movie Blood Diamond and CNN. With no lights, no running water, and the comfort of my new home USA, tears greeted my eyes as I made my way through the darkness to the arms of family and friends. My soul was longing for the village not the city.
In May 1997 a group of dissatisfied SLA officers staged a coup and established the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) as the new government of Sierra Leone. The RUF joined with the AFRC to capture Freetown with little resistance. The new government, led by Johnny Paul Koroma, declared the war officially over, and a wave of looting, rape, and murder followed the announcement. Reflecting international shock at the overturning of the civilian government, ECOMOG forces intervened and retook Freetown on behalf of the government, but they found the outlying regions more difficult to pacify. They continued to be terrorized by the RUF.
As the van pulled up to a stop in the villages which I do not recognize, I realize that this is the leftover of my beloved Jimmi, where I had spent many of vacations with my loved ones. One thing that was present was smiling faces, tear of joy, oh song with beautiful words about their daughter returning home to bring HOPE.
In January 1999 the international community intervened diplomatically to promote negotiations between the RUF and the government. The Lome Peace Accord, signed on 27 March 1999, was the result. Lome gave Foday Sankoh, the commander of the RUF, the vice presidency and control of Sierra Leone’s diamond mines in return for a termination of the fighting and the use of a UN peacekeeping force to observe the disarmament process. However, RUF compliance with the disarmament process was unpredictable and purposely lethargic, and by May 2000 the rebels were advancing upon Freetown once again. The British intervened to save the endangered UN mission and the fragile government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.
As a child, my parents and grandparents instilled in us the sense of responsibility, you have to give back, you have to Aisha take care of the less fortunate. It is the right thing to do they will say. Pray for guidance Aisha, surrender your life to help and you will never be alone they will say. People are here for each other, we need each other to make this world work, years of hearing that and Now as I stand in the middle of Jimmi I smiled to myself.
With help from a renewed UN mandate and Guinean air support, the British Operation Palliser finally defeated the RUF. On 18 January 2002, President Kabbah declared the Sierra Leone Civil War officially over. To this day, however, 10 years later, much of the countryside lies in ruins with unexploded bombs, destroyed wells, undrinkable water, and disabled residents. An excellent, if not theatrical, depiction of the times can be found in the movie “Blood Diamond
”. It is the goal of Khadarlis for Sierra Leone to restore the basic human needs necessary for the country to once again thrive, and profit from its natural resources. However, help is needed.
It took several meetings for me to realize that this was my calling, as it was for my grandmother, my mother and now me, to see that my villages will return back to some form of normalcy. Every time I make a trip to my villages, I see hope, proud people who cannot wait to tell me how many tons of sand they have moved waiting for me, how great it was to get the mud all piled up high that we used to build mud/cement combination houses, the women gathering fire wood to cook as we work, the ones singing inspirational song to cheer us up.
KHADARLIS FOR SIERRA LEONE
Khadarlis for Sierra Leone
(KSL) is a registered 501(c)(3), thus donations are tax-deductable. It came into being solely to improve the lives of the Sierra Leone people who were devastated by the 11 year Civil War. We have a blueprint for renewal that we wish to implement in as many villages as possible. The first step is restoration of a potable water supply. Our work has already begun as we have established one well in Jimmi, along with solar lighting and the establishment of a thrift shop. Over 90% of this work was done with the founder’s personal funds.
As we rub our sore feet and back at night by born fire, I hear stories of how the notebook I last took them for their kids ran out and the mother overjoyed to tell me that she sold dry fish by the main road to buy her another until I return, or the son that was so sick that the Advil I left cured, I smile as I remember the countless posting my volunteer did to get these simple donations to them.
Khadarlis’ mission is currently focused in the villages of Jimmi and Senehun, located in southern Sierra Leone. Our goal in these two communities is to restore potable water one well at a time, for consumption, and to aid in rejuvenating sustainable agriculture. Khadarlis also works to engage in cultural, spiritual and solidarity building projects in accordance with the community’s needs and requests. Furthermore, with every trip to the villages we replenish goods such as clothing, books, school supplies, household goods and furniture vital to the community.
I have a story that I cannot leave in my heart but to share with you, these people, my people have a strong sense of self worth, perseverance, and the ability to improvise.
For example like using a baby stroller as a shopping cart, or use to transport necessitates from one point to another. The resourcefulness of the way they reuse things, empty bottles, containers. Making toy cars for their children with iron hangers.
The Khan and Khadar families have generously donated 100 acres of land in Jimmi and Senehun in order to help rebuild the villages. With the help of our organization, ninety percent of all the land has now been cleared of landmines and is safe for houses and farming. Khadarlis has constructed housing to shelter to fifteen families. Four more houses are currently under construction. Solar lights have been sent over to Sierra Leone to light the center of the villages and Khadarlis is currently in the process of procuring more. Our organization has also completed one water well in the village of Jimmi for a fresh water supply, relieving the need to walk six miles for clean water. Khadarlis has installed generator that serves to pump water from the well to last throughout the day by the village and for events that require lighting such as town meetings. The village generates the money to purchase the gasoline in order to power the generator by selling additional clothing donations that our organization provides. Hence, the Thrift Shop.
I sit and watch cause I must have forgot what drive them, not having, making due with what they have and making due with love and understanding.
As limited as their resources are, they make the best of what they have, praying and hopeful that one day things will get better, they have so much HOPE and Faith that change will come for them, keeping their heads up, walking miles to get water that is not even safe but they keep living.
These first steps have left a deep impression on these communities. Children no longer have to travel long distances to bring their families water. Men and women can walk through their land without the danger of landmines. Many now have shelter and light to let the communities gather together. Khadarlis hopes that one day in the future children will read by the light we have helped to provide and sleep in the homes we have helped to build and they will go on to become strong and confident adults because they had been raised in strong communities. It is our goal to first restore potable water via a well, and then implement other projects to re-vitalize the village. However, water comes first.We are actively seeking aid to further our mission of village re-vitalization. The blue print we currently use has the following goals:
- Establishment of wells for potable water
- Creation of a Thrift Shop selling clothing and household goods
- Re-instituting agriculture
- Installation of Solar Panels
- Construction of new dwellings
- Creation of schools
- Special aid to persons with disabilities
- HIV/AIDS prevention
Our overall aim is to make the village we work in ultimately self sufficient, and safe. It is a daunting task to repair the results of such a devastating 11 year civil war. We are currently seeking sources of revenue to allow us to reach these goals.