Diamonds in the Rough
January 23rd, 2012
(originally published in The Arthur January 2012: Written by Yolanda Ajak)
The civil war in Sierra Leone between 1991-2002 resulted in the deaths of over 50,000 and the displacement of over a million citizens. During the first year of war the Revolutionary United Front (or RUF, a rebel army that fought and failed in the 11 year civil war) seized control of large strips of territory in Eastern and Southern Sierra Leone that were rich in alluvial diamonds.
The lack of immediate government response to the RUF, and the consequent disturbance in the country’s diamond production, lead to a Coup d’état on April 1992 by the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC). In 2009 the RUF were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In an internally hostile environment of economic inequality and violent conflict, the children were the most traumatized.
Mariatu Kamara was born and raised in the West African nation of Sierra Leone. Her harrowing experiences as a child victim of war and its aftermath are the subject of her memoir The Bite of the Mango (2008). Her survival story is one of breath taking courage, hope and inspiration. Mariatu was 12 years old when her family and the rest of her village fled from approaching armed rebels with the Revolutionary United Front.
Presently, Mariatu is a college student in Toronto and her professional aspirations for the future include working for the United Nations, raising awareness of the impact of war on children, and running her own foundation to raise money for homes. Eventually she would like to build homes for abused women and children in Sierra Leone.
She was honored the position as a UNICEF Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, which involves speaking to groups across North America about her experiences.
Prior to her involvement with UNICEF, she was a public speaker for Free the Children, a non-profit organization that acts on issues facing children in developing countries. She was also honored with a Voices of Courage Award in New York City, an award presented by the Women’s Refugee Commission.
Back in Sierra Leone at the Amputee Camp for war wounded citizens in Aberdeen Mariatu developed close ties with other young people who had suffered through the same atrocities of the brutal civil war. She and others began their internal healing process through the performing arts as members of Aberdeen’s Theatre Troupe. Mariatu sang, danced, and told stories that preserved their strength and hope, and restored forgiveness. They tribute their emotional healing to the Theatre Troupe created in the camp.
Mariatu plans on reuniting several members of Aberdeen’s theatre troupe. Her goal is to maintain this as an ongoing project so that she can instill the knowledge of peacekeeping skills that she is learning through her own work in other youth.
In conjunction with the ReFrame Film Festival, KWIC is hosting a World Issues Café with speaker Mariatu Kamara, this Saturday January 28. From 6-7pm, the Mix & Mingle reception & book signing will take place at Art Space catered by Black Honey. At 7:30pm: The KWIC Issues Café presentation will resume at Showplace “Youth, War and the Arts: A Journey to Transformation” followed by To Be Heard (USA, 87 minutes), the Saturday Night feature film.
Join us while we listen to this young woman’s survival story of the civil war in Sierra Leone. Tickets are $10, on sale at KWIC in the Environmental Science Building room B.101.