Selfhare Projects – Botswana, Africa

In the last financial year, MOM donated $15,000 to support a series of ‘Selfhare’ projects in Botswana. These projects run alongside government activities aiming to eradicate poverty.

Funds contributed to sustaining the community’s ‘Life Line’ fund, which acts as an emergency fund to give immediate support in food or other items as the need arises. In addition to this, the donation helped finance the construction of four more homes for struggling families, bursaries for children from poor families to prepare them for their formal education as well as students to pay their uniform and school fees.

Mothers for All is one of these projects. A non profit organisation in Botswana, Africa, supporting women who are caring for orphaned or vulnerable children.

There are many villages in Botswana and beyond where Mothers for All is helping women learn the art of jewelry making and growing organic vegetables – teaching women in Botswana skills to earn income and support their families. Mothers for all has transformed the lives of many women and children in Southern Africa. This video shows some of their work, first hand.

Santos the Woodcarver – two years later…

In 2005, Dave Tacon brought us the story of Santos, a woodcarver in Sierra Leone. To recap, Santo’s right hand was amputated by dissident soldiers when he was in his teens. Struggling to recover from this incident, and the civil war that was crippling his country, Santos sought shelter in the Freetown Amputee Camp.

one of Santos’ chimp wood carvings – click for larger imageThe nuns from the Cluny Sisters Catholic Mission helped Santos to identify and build upon his natural ability as a wood sculptor. The nuns assisted by organising an apprenticeship for him with a local woodcarver. He gradually earned enough to rent a shed, to use as a workshop. With your contributions to Melbourne Overseas Missions, Santos was able to purchase better equipment and further attain his rightful place in Santos and family – click to view larger imagesociety.

Two years on, Santos has a steady job at the Tacuguma Chimpanzee Sanctuary, making carvings which are sold to the public. He is independent, happy and in great shape. At the end of last year, Santos and his wife Isata became parents to a beautiful baby girl – Fiona – ever increasing their happiness.

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Photos from Sierra Leone

These are pictures of Sierra Leone brought to us by Sr. Ann Stevens who has returned to Melbourne briefly. Please click on an image below to view a larger version.

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Santos the Woodcarver

Dave Tacon

This article and photograph have been reproduced with
permission from Dave Tacon and Wood Carving magazine (UK).

santos and one of his wood carvingDave Tacon tells of a remarkable young man who, despite the odds, has set himself up with a woodcarving business in Sierra Leone.

Born into a large family of peasant farmers in Sierra Leone’s Northern Province, Santos is a shy, softly-spoken young man in his early 20s. More than half of Santos’ life has been spent in the midst of one of the last century’s most brutal civil wars, which shuddered to a halt in 2002.

When he was in his teens, Santos had his right hand sadistically amputated by dissident soldiers who appeared in his isolated jungle village. At gunpoint, they hacked off his hand and the hand of his younger cousin with a rusty machete before locking them inside a thatched hut. There they set fire to it and left their victims to burn while they moved on to the next village. It was 1998.

At this time amputations were one of the brutal trademarks of the Sierra Leonean war. Whilst the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), was responsible for the majority of atrocities, amputations were practiced by all warring factions. This, along with the abduction of children to jungle bases where they were brutalised, forcibly drugged and trained to maim and kill, is one of the horrors that put Sierra Leone on the international map.
DeterrentSantos – taking a break

During 1996, the RUF infamously launched “Operation Stop Elections” where amputation became the most terrorising deterrent against civil society, casting votes in multiparty elections. The democratic ally-elected government was soon ousted by a force known as the Armed Forced Revolutionary Council (AFRC) in a military coup. These dissident soldiers formed an alliance with the RUF. When the AFRC was in turn forcibly removed from office by a force of Nigerian-led “peacekeepers” from the Economic Community of West African States, many former government soldiers went bush and joined the rebels.

Santos fell victim to these rebel soldiers who became known as ‘sobels’. These ‘sobels’ may have wanted to punish Santos’ community for its tacit support of forces loyal to the country’s democratic ally-elected government. In a community that struggles to survive by subsistence agriculture, the act of cutting off one’s limbs is tantamount to cutting off the future livelihood of a peasant farmer and his family.

Miraculously, Santos escaped from the burning hut and, like many thousands of other civilian casualties of the conflict, ended up as a refugee in Freetown, the nation’s capital. Here he sought shelter in the Freetown Amputee Camp. Yet Santos’ handicap led him to discover a talent previously unknown to him.

Outside the Freetown Amputee Camp, he was noticed carving stone miniatures, left-handed, by nuns from the Cluny Sisters Catholic Mission. They helped him to learn further by organising an apprenticeship with a local woodcarver. Through money earned selling his sculptures to foreign nationals and while working with other amputees in the garden of the Sisters’ mission, Santos gradually earned enough to commission local blacksmiths to forge tools for him. He was also able to rent a shed of corrugated iron, which he now uses as a workshop.

Santos’ story is one of countless others in a country where untold thousands of civilians suffered the brunt of one of the previous century’s most devastating civil conflicts.

This war crippled the small West African nation and, according to the UN, relegated it to the place of the World’s poorest. Santos continues to hone his craft and make a living in the trying conditions of Freetown.

Greetings from Gambia

Rina Sacco sends us an email about her current situation in Gambia

Hello Everyone!!

Greeting from The Gambia! I am writing a general email this time to try to catch up on all my news for you all! I am having a wonderful time and am meeting so many beautiful people. Everyone here is so polite, friendly and welcoming….absolutely everyone – men, women and children!!! I am keeping extremely busy – there is definitely lots of work for me to do here which is terrific because that is what I am here for.

I must apologise for my lack of communication to date because it we have not had any electricity any night since I have been here barr three nights. During the day we have tried to work with generator power but this has been very unreliable also…they thought it might improve after the elections but this is yet to be seen. I have decided that if any fundraising can be done in australia then the first thing to help them with their work here would be to buy and install a new generator. I have never gone to bed as early as I have done here and then I have been getting up very early in the morning…my whole routine has changed. I have a ceiling fan in my room which is a luxury but I cannot use it if there is no power…the nights are very difficult to sleep with the heat but I should not complain because at least I have running water!!! Most people have to get up early and walk to a town well to fill their buckets and then take them back to their family homes. I see them every morning queued up and I feel guil ty that I was cursing that morning because I had to wash my hair in COLD water!!! Yes, I have become accustomed to the cold showers every day….it is not as bad as you think especially with this hot and humid weather!!! I know that I am very lucky being able to live and work in the compound because I have some basic luxuries that most of the gambians can only dream of!!

I am working and living on the G.P.I. compound which is the premises of the Gambian Pastoral Institute. The only other people who live here are the Director, Sr. Philomena Barry and Sr, Calixte who teachers at one of the schools in Kanifing nearly. There is alo a Gambian lady who is affectionately known as Auntie Chris who is the matron of the place and does all the cooking for us and the student groups who come to use the premises for retreats and workshops etc. My official title at the Institute is The Adult Education Coordinator. The other main departments are The Communications department. the RE departments, publications dept and hospitality dept. We are all busy preparing for a week long celebration of the Silver Jubilee of GPI – 25 years of existance in the Gambia. It is a big thing and is taking up lots of time – I have had to do lots of research to prepare for the exhibition, have had to prepare an Historical document of the institute, have interviewed all the employees who work here and have done s taff profiles on them. I have virtually had to motivate all the staff to get moving as time does not seem imiportant to them…Sr. Philomena – The Director was panicking but the staff have been terrific and working great as a team. It was my idea to do the staff profiles and this was great for me because I have really got to know everyone on a different level and took all their photos etc for the souvenier newsletter which is being prepared ( it is actually a brochure but it is taking the place of their monthly newsletter. Have had to do a lot of computer inservice with the secretary to help her use the computer and teach her publisher to produce the monthly newsletter in future without so much drama. This newsletter is sold all around the country and is a big communication tool to spread the good news and all that is happening in the christian community.

Even though the Gambia is 90 per cent muslim I have not felt this at all. I have been totally surrounded by christians as I work amongst them and I have never seen so many people with such a devote faith ever in australia. Even in all their poverty and hardship they still find time to pray and worship God. I love their singing and total commitment. It has really inspired me and helps to explain why they are such lovely people. The inter-racial conflict that you hear about all around the world between muslims and christians is definitely not the case here. There is total respect for each other and they work harmoniously together. Even with what is happening everywhere else it is not here – it so peaceful and I admire the way they respect and work together. We know a little about the usa and afganistan issue but because there is only one tv programme we do not hear much about it. Only through radio broadcasting etc and newspapers but they do not devote much to world news especially since we have just had the e lections. Everyone was very worried about these because the lead up was a little violent as on the night before a man was shot and another minister politician had his house burnt down. However, despite this they had the most peaceful elections ever…Jammeh got elected again and everyone seems happy about it because he introduced tv here three years ago, he has started to improve the roads, computers were introduced two years ago and he is working on the health system etc so in a short time has done more than the previous president who was in for 30 years. I must say that the one and only tv station is absolutely appalling tv viewing.

It is just like watching the worst ever home movie that you have seen….well is actually just a whole lot of people who contribute home films made and put together….the only thing I have watched is the news which is so bad…they only ever talk about the rest of the world for two minutes. Then on sunday they have a programme called The Day of the Lord….we have been on it a few times…this is where the communications dept have videoed a mass or church feast day and then it is viewed on sunday which is the limited time that christians have been given to television. I have been invited to go on a tv panel on the 26 October to discuss the Silver jubilee and I have been trying desperately to get out of it because i am camera shy and do not want to go on national television. GPI’s communication department are really aiming to set up their own radio and tv station in the future to add to the one and only one available at the moment. It would be great but I do not see this happening soon. The Silver Jubilee is on 5 Nov to 9 Nov and the Bishop Michael J Cleary has invited all GPI supporters and many others to come along and we have a big Thanksgiving Mass celebration and then a big formal dinner. an open day, a documentary about the work of GPI, planting of a tree, symposium on youth, marriage/family and parish work then finish off with a big fundraising concert. This is all extra to our daily work and jobs. I don’t know when I will be able to start on my adult RE programmes.

As well as the above I held my first teacher’s workshop at St Therese’s Upper Basic Secondary college with 55 teachers on the second saturday that I had arrived. The topic was on Teachers’ Role and expectations and Student’s rights and r esponsiblities and teaching strategies. The first weekend that I was here I met an english girl and her husband who were visiting the city and usually live up country in a village called Bulok. Back in England she was involved in health eduation and had been doing a little bit of teaching in the village. Sr. Calixte roped me into doing this workshop and I invited my friend Theresa to join me….it was terrific…we made a great team and people did not believe that we just met a week before. It went so well that the principal of the school invited us back to do another workshop with the prefects of the school on leadership. Word also spread around and the principal of St. Catherines’ school has asked me to go to do a workshop with her teaching staff also.

So besides GPI work, teachers workshops I have also been attending meetings at the Education Secretariat and Bishop’s office where I have been asked if I could run computer inservices for all the staff on an individual one-to-one basis. This will be interesting because they are all at different levels and there are about 60 of them in total including all the staff at GPI who are lined up for computer classes. I don’t think that I have enough hours in the day to do all this but I will do all that I can.

I am then supposed to be going up country soon to visit all the villages and see the way the true gambians live in their simple life and try to contribute in their schools there. but at the moment there is so much to do in the city here I am not sure when I will get there. I have not even done my orientation course yet but Sr. Phil says that I have settled into life here so well that I probably won’t need it!!!

I have not yet seem many native animals…just a few monkeys and heaps of geckos and these huge monitor lizards which are like fat goannas. We have loads of them on the compound and they are about four froot long and have fat stumpy feet and a long tail…they are definitely not attractive and I have had a few run ins with them and I hope and pray at night when there is no power that I am not going to get out of bed and step on one…I think that I would have a heart attack!!!

Sr.Phil and Sr. Calixte and Auntie Chris are lovely and have really made me feel welcome. I share a meal with them once a day and we always try to spend some time together like going for a walk along the beach or just sitting and sharing our stories. I get up at 5.00 am every morning and go to mass with Sr. phil and Sr. Calixte in town at 6.30 am and then return to start work at 8.00 am. It is good to get up early because it is cooler and you get more work done. I am gradually getting used to the heat…it gets easier every day….they tell me that it gets better and cooler in Dec when the dry season begins. I will believe it when I see it.

I must apologise for this long letter…but I have so much to tell you that I do not know where begin but I think that it is enough for today. I hope that you and your families are all well and happy. I think of you all often and wonder what you are all doing…please write often to tell me what you have all been doing. I have been away for a month and have still not received even one snail mail letter…it is so depressing….that is why I wanted to get my email up and running!! I cannot thank my dear friend Bernadette and Tech rentals enough for helping me by donating this laptop…it is the only way of communication for me at the moment with my family and friends. Thank you Bernie and Ashley!!!

Even though Mum and Dad want me to call and reverse charges this is not possible. I cannot make a collect call from the gambia to oz…and since I do not get paid a telephone call is a real luxury as it is so expense to call and would take up all my living allowance. It is quite frustrating and the mail here is appalling but please do not stop writing ….I will get it eventually even if it comes all at once!!!

Hope to hear from you all soon! Will try to reply individual emails soon! Miss you all and thinking of you! Take care and don’t worry about me because I am in a safe place and with good people who are taking good care of me!! God knew what he was doing when he brought me here!! I know that I am helping these people and this gives me a great sense of satisfaction…helping others by using the gifts that I take for granted that he has given me. I have been doing a lot of personal reflection and I really value and cherish what I have at home we just do not know or realise how lucky we are!!! I will not go into that now but in my next update I will share some other thoughts and observations with you.

God bless!!

love and hugs to you all

Rina xxxooooxxxx

PS Have not told you about my best friend Rory who is my constant companion and true protector…he is the compound dog and he is gorgeous…the best temperament ever…we have fallen in love with each other…he follows me everywhere and sleeps in my office all day!! He is terrific!

Activities in Freetown

This letter was received in January 2000 from St Joseph of Cluny Sister/Doctor Ann Stevens. This reports on her activities in Freetown Sierra Leone and hopes for the future.

Greetings for the New Year. I hope it will be the beginning of the time of peace for all of us. Here in Sierra Leone, the desire for peace is uppermost in everybody’s mind. People still express hope that the mid-1999 peace accord will bear fruit, although it did have quite a few teething problems.

It looks like I’ll be a “Jill-of-all-trades” for a while; generally overseeing the Cluny works in Freetown. That’s four schools, feeding and aged care programs, and a retreat/Conference Centre! As well as working with “my boys” – the war wounded from Makeni who have managed to find me in Freetown. Looks rather daunting, I must say, because we’re a bit thin on the ground with personnel. One sister who came down with me has chosen to leave the congregation and another who was to have come has, for health reasons, not been unable to. That just leaves Patricia and myself.

Let me tell you more about my boys! They are all patients that I previously worked with in the Centre for War Wounded in Makeni and who moved into Freetown in times following the rebel takeover. Already one of our lads who had previously been in Secondly School has been accepted back into school (form three). He had both hands amputated in 1998. He later had the Kruckumburg operation to convert one stump into a pincer. Since we returned he has been coming to our house three days a week practising writing/drawing and has become quietly competent. He starts school again no tomorrow. Another is working on our compound as a gardener. He manipulates tools with his good left hand and his right stump. Some of the older ones are interested in petty trading. There is a local NGO here (started by one of our sisters some years ago) with a good reputation for training disadvantaged women in small business skills. That group has expressed interest in applying their program to the amputee group. The other area of interest is the formation of an amputee soccer team. They had one going in Makeni- the goalkeeper had hands OK but no fingers! The principle of one of the secondary schools here has agreed to allow the team to use the school playing field out of school hours. So the lads are scouting around for a coach and a few extra players.

With regards to the funds sent from MOM – we are all extremely appreciative. We assure you that Melbourne people are making a difference to the lives of children, women and men of Sierra Leone, lessening their suffering and bring some measure of joy.

From a Struggling Nation

This letter was received in December 1999 from Dr/Sr. Ann Stevens. Melbourne Overseas Mission continues to support rehabilitation of a shattered country.

Note: The original letter has been modified slightly to protect the safety of the writer and those involved however the impact of the letter remains clear.

Thanks for your faxes- it is good to get the news from home. As you’ve discovered already, getting through here is pretty much a hit & miss affair. I managed to get my first real proper dose of malaria last week- Not nice at all; I’ve much more sympathy now for people when they say they’ve got malaria. My previous thoughts of “it’s only a bit of fever- you’ll get over it” have been modified a tad.

The “lows” of October still come and go- I still alternate between “what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here” and “well-a-little-must-be-better-than-nothing”. If the SBS shown on Sierra Leone is the one I think it is you probably get some idea of the reasons for the frustration. Nobody, but nobody, gives a true picture of what is happening. In the last “incident” in Makeni official reports were that it was a minor skirmish, quickly settled. Even the Bishop in interviews with international press played it down. Heaven forbid that this precious peace process would be seen to be wavering. Friends & co-workers from Makeni say it’s not true. The opportunists raped every girl over 8 years old that they could lay hands on. Parents sent their daughters to stay in the swamps for 3 days- sleeping with the snakes was better than sleeping with the rapists! So why do they stay in Makeni? Where else can they go?

Sympathy for the displaced has worn thin when even the non-displaced are struggling to manage. Food supplies in the displaced & refugee camps are not quite getting there- well what’s the need- we’ve got peace- they should all go home now!

Since that last letter was written I’ve had the chance to spend 3 weeks in the southern province and there are some positive things happening. People are starting to rebuild- schools and businesses are opening. Then I had a brief glimpse of some of the diamond fields & pessimism reared its head again. Kids leaving school, farms etc to stand waist deep in muddy water- sure that they’ll be the ones who’ll make their fortune! They never do. The diamond traders are the winners.

I’ve got a temporary job designing an in-service training program for mission clinics supported by MEMISA. Working in, rather than alongside, the NGO system has been a real eye-opener. I’ve piloted the program in one urban and one rural clinic. The feedback from staff has been really positive. People here have so little experience of positive support, that just the fact of me spending time with them (I stay 3 weeks in a clinic) & asking them what their concerns are puts me ahead.

While I was in the south I was able to facilitate a one-day workshop for staff and parents of students in a school for children with intellectual impairment. Almost half of the students also have epilepsy. Both staff and parents have lots they wanted to be able to discuss. I enjoyed the day.

In Freetown, many of the war wounded I worked with in Makeni are catching up with me here. There are agencies “helping” amputees in Freetown, but none focussing on long-term rehabilitation. I’m being asked to look at what could be possible. Maybe the New Year will see me getting more involved in this rehabilitation business.

The prosthesis vs Kruckenbergs procedure is still going on- with the ones most affected by it all- the amputees, not getting much say at all. What the various parties don’t seem to be able to see is that there is room for both. There are so many amputees about who are not getting any help that neither the prosthesis suppliers nor the surgeons will be put out of business by the “other side”. The glamour bit is fitting the limb or doing the operation.

One of the Makeni lads (15 years old, Right hand amputation) is working in our garden here 3 days a week. He’s already learnt to manipulate basic farming implements with his good hand & stump while he was in the Makeni program. When Makeni got too dangerous he came to Freetown & was ripe for joining the street beggar culture here. The compound caretaker is from the same tribe as the lad & has been very supportive. Having him working in the compound also makes some of the many people who are in and out of here during the day think again of their perception of amputees.

Much Love

Thank you from Sierra Leone

This letter was received in June 1998 from Dr/Sr. Stevens in Sierra Leone. Melbourne Overseas Mission sent some aid to assist in financing the purchase of an ambulance.

Thank you very much for your efforts on behalf of the mission here. I would be delighted to accept Melbourne Overseas Mission’s offer of $15,000.00 towards the purchase of a replacement vehicle for the clinic.

The School for the Hearing Impaired, which is also part of our work, has given over the boarders’ hall (boarders will not be coming back until at least September) and two of its classrooms for the accommodation of those injured in the most recent attacks in the villages around Makeni. The forces here have no intention of surrendering – they vow to keep fighting until they are in power or until there is no Sierra Leone.

Friday 8th there were a series of villages attacked about 14 miles from Makeni. Kaddiatu Dainkeh, the local Red Cross branch officer, and myself went out to bring in the injured. I found this more difficult than our days of ‘captivity’ during the February rampages. There were streams of people moving along the main road, everyone, including children, carrying bundles on their heads and plodding along to an uncertain welcome in the next town. The houses in the villages were still smouldering and here and there were bodies hastily covered with a lappa before the surviving family members ran. We picked up a number of people with atrocious cutlass wounds. No gunshot wounds – they must be running out of ammunition. By the time we finished the hospital was full to overflowing and we had to continue on to Magburaka hospital, another 20 miles away.

The attacks continued over the next days. The use of the school was a rapidly conceived, makeshift solution to a pressing problem. But it has turned out well. With the exception of the cook and the night guard, all the services are provided voluntarily by members of the local parish. The boys of the youth group draw water from the well in the evenings, the pupils of the school in the mornings. The girls’ group clean the hall. The women’s group does the laundering and a group of teachers are on a roster for bathing the patients. Red Cross trained volunteers do the dressings each day. A volunteer doctor who has been working here, supervises the medical side and I keep myself busy coordinating the show. Caritas has provided funds for the feeding, the Xaverian fathers let us loose on a container they had recently received, and we scrounged clothes and blankets from that. Money we had received from home enabled us to buy sleeping mats, cups, buckets, plates for these people who came with nothing.

Each patient has their own story. Three young boys (about 14 years) have had their right hands amputated. One farmer has had both hands amputated. One woman tells the story that the rebels were about to kill her three year old child. She begged for him and they told her she could have him back if she let them cut off her ears. She agreed. A 16 year old boy walked 5 days to find help. His hand had been amputated, and he had had to leave his more severely injured companions in the bush when they were no longer able to walk. And so it goes on.

The rebels also take hostages with them from each village to be used as shields restricting ECOMOG forces in attacks on rebel bases.

The clinic has got back to almost normal functioning. However the epilepsy program has been severely curtailed, with only the Makeni segment of it still optional.

I was very impressed with the staff’s deliberations prior to our reopening. We know the clinic had been looted twice – once by the rebels and once by the local people. It was the latter that caused the most anger in the staff. They were in a dilemma. We were coming into malaria and diarrhoea season and the absence of clinical services would primarily affect the children. As our second emergency store had not been found in the general looting, we were the only clinic in a position to restart almost immediately. However, if we were to seek outside funds to purchase what had been stolen (sheets, water buckets, cups, towels, screen curtains etc.) we would send the message that it is OK to steal from the mission because they could always cover the losses. So a list was drawn up of all items missing and which could be purchased locally. The clinic reopened without purchasing any of these. Patients were told a surcharge would be placed on all treatments to go towards the purchase of these items. It was received fav ourably and I heard no complaints. The senior nurses had the right to reduce or waive this charge when necessary and I found they used their discretion well.

Friday evenings two nurses took what had been collected during the week to the market to see which items from our list they could get. The rest of us waited eagerly for their return. The two that went must have been exceptional bargainers – it did not take long to go through the list!

So there it is – a mixture of the horror and the hopeful.

Back to the vehicle – I would not consider purchasing until the threat of further ‘commandeering’ is over. That is certainly not the case at this time.

Again thank you, and thanks to the people of Melbourne Overseas Mission for their support.

Much love

Visit to Makeni

On Friday 13 March, Sister Philomena and Sister Greta set off by road from Conakry to Makeni. The purpose of their journey was to visit Sister Ann Stevens and Sister Kieran Flynn after their 17 day ordeal at the hands of Junta soldiers and rebels who had come up to go on a rampage through all up-country towns after having been ousted from Freetown by Ecomog (West African Peace Keeping Force). The sad story of the recent savage attacks by the retreating Junta army ( known as the ‘People’s Army’ since the coup of 1997) revealed itself on the journey. Having heard that the town of Lunsar had been particularly badly hit, they stopped there to see the damage and to offer sympathy to the few mission personnel still around. It was the Catholic Mission that was specially targeted, seemingly because two of the Bishops had spoken out against the Junta. The convent of the Clarissan Missionary sisters and their Girls’ Secondary Boarding school, the Josephite Fathers house and two schools, and the St. John of God Brothers Hospital and living quarters were all in a state of complete shambles. It was heartbreaking to see all papers and various items scattered across the floor, files emptied, and what equipment could not be carried just smashed to pieces. All these institutions had been very well equipped with up to date machines and instruments.

Continuing on their journey the sight of burned out houses was becoming all too familiar. Some of the houses in the villages had been made of mud blocks – the homes of the poor. Where were they now? What kind of madness had caused such senseless devastation?

Arriving at Makeni convent the 2 Sisters were eagerly waiting and gave the travellers a very warm and joyful welcome. They had filled the van with provisions and all that they thought would be needed. Over a tasty meal of rice and sauce the visitors then gave their whole attention to stories of the siege. The sisters had remained on in the convent for 3 days after the arrival of the rebels. Then Fr. Daniel Koroma, V.G. went over and advised them to join all the other missionary personnel in the Pastoral centre. There were about 50 priests, Sisters, Brothers and seminarians. Some of the seminarians had decided to walk to Port Loko (a 4 day walk) to get out of danger. They followed the bush paths and slept in the bush at nights. The Clarissan Sisters in Lunsar had to do the same – walk from Lunsar to Port Loko through the bush. One of the Sisters who was a diabetic had to be carried by the priests who were accompanying them.

Luckily the Pastoral Centre had two very good wells, so water was never in short supply. Mattresses were brought down to the hall where a makeshift dormitory was soon arranged. The shooting at night and the periodical visits by the rebels (some only young boys) who behaved very roughly with the older priests were the most frightening aspects of the 17 days. News came in that all mission houses, including the seminary and convents had been looted. The Missionaries of Charity had been held at gunpoint, Sister Rosemary gave them the keys and told them to take what they wanted. They carried away all the food and money. Then they told Sisters to pack a bag and go with them, but the Sisters remained steadfast in their refusal to obey that order. “You can shoot us if you like” they said “but we are not coming”. In the end they went off and the Sisters went to join the others at the Pastoral Centre.

During on of the military ‘visits’ to the Pastoral centre the soldiers helped themselves to all bags and their contents. So now everybody had only the clothes they were wearing! Bit by bit it was discovered that the convent was only partially looted, the work it is believed of a local youth!!! In fact it became a well known fact that 80% of the looting was done by civilians! The Hearing Impaired School was cleared of all its equipment – hearing aids (of what use to them??) audio testing machines, tape recorders, 25 sewing machines, typewriters, carpentry tools etc. When all was over the Sisters had visited Magburaka only to find the convent emptied of everything except the beds and heavy furniture!!! The Mission which had been visited 3 times was in the same state. The 2 priests had stayed in different villages until all was over. 19 houses were burned down in Magburaka.

The saddest scene of all was the burned out workshop of Brother Schneider, who for 28 years had been making shoes and callipers for the lepers and the handicapped. It was said to be the best of its kind in West Africa, and Brother Schneider was certainly one of the most committed Missionaries ever to have worked there.

We are waiting for further news.