Red Cross helps a war-torn community

Imagine living in a country where men are not expected to live past 42 years of age and women will only succeed them by six years. This would mean that I would only have 26 more years left of my life, to get married, start a career and have children. Unbelievable. And just think of eating only one meal a day, if you are lucky and being conscripted to fight a war at the age of 10 or younger. This is what life is like for people living in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone, located in Western Africa on the Atlantic Ocean, is at the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index and is said to have the lowest life expectancy rate and highest infant death mortality rate. If you would like to compare, Canada is near the top of this list and Sierra Leone is roughly the size of Nova Scotia, housing as many as five million people.
Christine Tokar and Emmanuel Hindovei Tommy have been facing these kinds of conditions for many years now. Tokar a social welfare delegate for the International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has been working alongside Hindovei Tommy, who works for the Red Cross within Sierra Leone, in helping reestablish the communities.
Since 1991, Sierra Leone has been battling a horrible civil war resulting in the deaths of nearly 80,000 people and amputating another 10,000. Hindovei Tommy, a resident of Sierra Leone says, ” this has been the most crude form of war fought in this country.” The children of Sierra Leone grew up fast in an environment like this; 10,000 have been abducted,used as sex slaves and used as soldiers to perform human rights abuses.
As of May 1999, a cease-fire has been reached between the government and the main rebel group Revolutionary United Front. This lead to a disarmament pact, followed by the deployment of armed United Nations peacekeepers in Sierra Leone.
Now, the problem that the people of Sierra Leone face is getting life back to normal, if at ever possible. “Peace is at the horizon and will stay there as long as people work together,” says Hindovei Tommy.
Now this is where the International Red Cross steps in and takes initiative.
Tokar has been working closely with the individuals of Sierra Leone and thus has been able to put into progress some programs for the rehabilitation process.
Tokar says, ” nothing is left of the communities and we are helping people rebuild.” Not only is the Red Cross providing aid but non-governmental organizations as well.
The Red Cross in Sierra Leone started in 1961 by an Act of Parliament and is now working alongside the Canadian Red Cross in the rebuilding programs.
Following the peace agreement in 1999, three new programs were introduced to change the situation many people faced in Sierra Leone.
They are the job aid for war amputees (JAWA) program, community animation and peace support (CAPS) program, and child advocacy and rehabilitation (CAR) program. Tokar says “the programs are looking at it from the level of the humanitarian situation.”
CAPS started in June to help in the reconstruction of the rural communities.
According to the Red Cross ” it’s goal is enhancing peace and reconciliation support to communities through practical assistance that will help communities to rebuild their homes and livelihood, and through animation activities that will facilitate the restoration and development of peace and reconciliation mechanisms within communities.”
As individuals walk back to their homes the horror that they see is one of
destruction. Many homes had been destroyed in the midst of the civil war, as well as popular landmarks. Therefore, reconstruction and starting out new is important to the many people living in Sierra Leone because virtually nothing was left of the communities.
Sierra Leone is rich in oral tradition but has suffered a lot even previously to the war. The shambles of the communities are the only remains of this now poor environment.
Through CAPS the people will rebuild their lives and their relationships that once were. The hardest part will be rebuilding a community that was some 100 years old, nothing can really replace the past but the Red Cross hopes through their peace huts established in communities that ” people will come together in reconciliation,” says Tokar. The program also looks at rebuilding customary traditions within the communities, such as dancing and music, as well as assisting widows who have lost a spouse because of the war.
Many children grew up during this war and know about nothing else, therefore CAR helps those children that were directly affected by the war. Those children that were abducted, used as sex slaves or as soldiers.
The program also helps children,who witnessed the violence and terror of the civil war. Imagine being a five-year-old child and watching your mother or your father being killed or witnessing your house being burned down.
This is some of the facts that the children of Sierra Leone have to deal with.
Another scary thought is that most children at the time of the civil war were conscripted to fight thus forcing children as young as the age of ten to commit atrocities. Children were killing and ruining communities of their own. If children refused to fight then they or their family would be threatened.
” The CAR program was only contrived 8 months ago and things are still in the experimental stages,” says Tokar. All children and adults were affected by some degree therefore it is important to help out in any way possible.
The last new program created was JAWA, a program started to help those victims that were injured or lost limbs in the war. Many adults and children lost arms and legs, therefore to help them deal with their situation JAWA insured that they learn how to function with those missing limbs. They are placed around the community where they learn a trade and become part of the working population.
The three programs key goals are helping communities come together to be connected once again and by reducing activities that divide them. The individuals of the Red Cross also wish to change people’s view of themselves in Sierra Leone, thus helping them integrate and become a community.
Tokar states that ” we have had a great deal of success from these programs in a short period of time,” and believes that ” the peace is sustainable.” The members of both foundations of the Red Cross have been working hand in hand on this situation.
Now, as we Canadians sit back and think what we can do to help the people in Sierra Leone, just remember, “we are all part of the problem and all part of the solution in the issues of Sierra Leone and elsewhere,” says Tokar.
If you wish to volunteer for the Red Cross or make a donation, visit their web-site at or call 1-800-418-1111 for donations.

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