Women of Hope International, Sierra Leone

Marion got polio as a young girl that left her crippled. There were no other people like her in the village who had been crippled by polio, so she thought she was not human. When her parents talked about the family or the number of children they had, they excluded her. They told her that she would never amount to anything.

One day, Marion and a friend ran away to Mekeni to find a new life. Her friend abandoned her and she was left homeless. She begged in the streets, and found a different place to sleep every night. Then she heard about Women of Hope. Some of the people she begged with on the streets invited her to go with them to Women of Hope meetings. She discovered that she was not alone, that there were many like her.

She made friends at Women of Hope, and learned to make greeting cards and sell them on the free trade market for income. Now she has a house, and she pays the rent herself because her income is larger than her husband’s who is also disabled. Recently she paid 120,000 leones for six months rent, and they are secure in a small home. Her landlord when they moved in thought “there goes the neighborhood. They did not expect her to be able to pay, and were waiting for her to fail. When she paid the landlord’s wife, the wife went to her husband with the money and he complained saying there is no way that Marion could have earned that money.

Marion uses a PET to get around the community – a hand powered vehicle for the disabled made specifically for use in the developing world (see www.petinternational.org).

Still it is difficult for her to navigate the vehicle all they way to her home. So Marion made friends with kids in the neighborhood, and pays them a small amount with which they can buy biscuits or some small treat to push her inside. Now the kids watch for her and come running to “Auntie” Marion and fight over who is going to push her. The mothers and the children are happy, and they call her “Auntie”. Her family who said she would never amount to anything now relies on her to help provide for them. She sends money when she has some to send.

(Kim Kargbo interpreted the following testimony from Marion about her CHE training and work as a CHE, on a recording taken on the morning of April 26, 2013.)

“How has CHE training helped you?”

The training helped me because it taught me about God. I did not know who God was and that is why I thought I was not a human being, because I didn’t understand God and that He was the Creator.

I was afraid of nobody. I would curse everybody. And if anybody said anything bad to me I would give it right back without hesitation. I used to pray, “God please kill me”, and now I pray “Please give me long life and health so I can continue to do good”.

Now I understand that the sickness that crippled me is just a sickness; it wasn’t God cursing me and telling me that I was worthless. I understand that sickness happens, but it doesn’t mean that I am a bad person because I got that sickness.

I never washed or took care of myself. I neglected my body because I didn’t believe I was worth anything. If you had met me then, you wouldn’t have wanted to sit here and talk to me because I smelled and I was dirty. Through the training I learned that just because I have a disability of some kind doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t take care of myself like everyone else. I am a human being, and I should take care of myself just like everyone else. Then others will see me as a human being. I also learned that I should think better of myself and of other people and not cause trouble. I used to cause trouble because I didn’t care. It used to be that it didn’t matter because I wasn’t worth anything anyway. Now I respect others and they show respect back to me.

I never knew that when you come out of the latrine you should wash your hands and I was always sick. Now I will never leave the latrine without washing my hands. I will never touch food if coming from the toilet without washing my hands first.

Because I didn’t know about God and how God felt about me, I didn’t take care for myself. I was so dirty that no one would ever think to eat my food. Now they take food from me and they eat it. I cook for the neighbors and they eat it and are grateful. Before they wouldn’t touch it because I was so dirty they thought they would be contaminated by my food. All of these are changes I have learned from CHE training.

“What is happening in your community where you are serving as a CHE?”

(As background to what Marion will say, a cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone in 2012 caused the deaths of 392 people. It was the country’s worst outbreak of cholera in 15 years and the largest cholera outbreak in Africa in 2012. Cholera is a water-borne disease, primarily spread by the consumption of water or food contaminated by the feces of an infected person. The outbreak was triggered by heavy rainfall and flooding in Sierra Leone, combined with poor hygiene practices, unsafe water sources, and ineffective waste management.)

In my whole community, kids pooped on the ground and there was poop and trash everywhere. I started telling people they couldn’t just let their children poop on the ground, but they would not listen to me. So I threatened them, “Whose poop is this? If somebody doesn’t pick this up, I’m going to call the inspector and there is going to be trouble in this neighborhood.” Since that time nobody poops on the ground anymore. They all use the latrine.

The community toilet that we all use was filthy, which is why nobody wanted to use it – it was gross. I started talking to people about how they had to be cleaner, and that they were getting diseases because they were pooping all over the place and the toilet was so bad that nobody would use it. So I mobilized the community and told them that they needed to clean the toilet. They told me that I would have to be one of the people to clean it because I use it too. I said I would accept that. So we all cleaned the toilet together and now the toilet is clean.

I have a disabled friend who would not get near people, so I invited her to come to WOH, and now she is starting to interact with people. I couldn’t attend the WOH Christmas party because I had typhoid, but after the party my friend told me that she went the party by herself.

My prayer now is that God will give WOH leaders the strength to continue even though it is hard, because the things I am learning are so important and are changing my life and the lives of people around me. I want to learn more. What I am learning I am sharing with other people, and I do not want to give up even though it is hard.

Now I talk to “walkafut” [Marion’s term for non-disabled people] and they listen to me. Originally they thought that if your feet were damaged, your brain must also be damaged. Now they stand there and gape at me because I am articulate and know what I am talking about. I am surprising people all the time because I have sense and they thought I didn’t have sense.

I pray that WOH will continue because disabled people are going to become leaders in Sierra Leone because of the teaching they have received here, and people are going to be surprised. My parents were fighting and they called me and asked me to mediate [the same parents who told her that she would always be a burden and that she would never amount to anything].

I was in a bad condition and very depressed. I used to pray, “God please take my life”. Now I pray that God will give me longer life so I can serve him and help others. My real parents died, and I was given over to stepparents. It was hard.

Marion started to cry and through the tears she concluded:

God has rescued me because he is my Father.

May 2013 Prayer Letter