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Sierra Leone: shelter-for-war-widows brings hope to a woman

31-01-2007 Feature

The war in Sierra Leone displaced hundreds of thousands of victims, the majority of whom fled to neighbouring Guinea and Liberia. They left behind a plethora of humanitarian problems, including wanton destruction of life and property.

Mariama Kallon, 62, was happily married with three children in her family home in Konehun village, in Pujehun district, when the conflict broke out in Sierra Leone in 1991. Marauders hit Konehun during the crisis, forcing Mariama to flee with her children.

Her efforts to find them a safe haven meant that she was separated from her husband, with whom she had lived for nearly 32 years. She and her children were later captured by armed fighters. They managed to escape to Liberia when their captors faced a counter-attack from their adversaries. However, life continued as a miserable routine for Mariama, with the welfare and burden of the children on her in the absence of her husband.

Three years later, through the synergy of the ICRC and Sierra Leone Red Cross Society (SLRCS) tracing teams, her husband, Pa Musa, was traced and informed about Mariama and the children’s whereabouts, resulting in a happy family reunion after much struggle. But Pa Musa suddenly fell ill and died after two months of serious illness in the refugee camp.  He had owned a house in the village before the family fled, and they had hoped to come home together after the conflict ended. So, against all odds, Mariama returned to Konehun with the children in 1999 but the massive destruction of the village meant she was unable to locate their home.

Upon returning to her village, Mariama learned from her uncle that the armed fighters who attacked the village had burnt down her house. He was able to provide her, her daughter, and two grown-up boys with a single room, which they shared, but her uncle's two wives and six children were neither friendly nor accommodating. Unfortunately, the uncle also passed away due to an illness, and the wives threw Mariama and her children out of the house forcing them to stay with a friend under very bad circumstances.

In 2005, the ICRC Water and Habitat team visited Konehun to assess vulnerable war widows for a shelter-for-women project. Mariama’s plight and vulnerability qualified her amongst others as a beneficiary. After a series of discussions, the community agreed to help out with labour amd she was provided with local materials for the building of the house. Her new independent life residing in her three-bedroom cottage could not be compared to the enormous difficulties she had lived through. " Papa God thank you for life…God bless the ICRC, " she said.