In our family we don’t often speak of each other’s pain, of the things we have seen and the hardships we have had to endure. In one sense, it doesn’t really matter; we’re together now, we stand side by side, we compete together, win together, lose together, fight for and support each other.
Sometimes, though, the story needs to be told.
This is the story of my brother, Kalie Kamara.
He was born in Sierra Leone , in a village so small it had attached itself to the slightly larger village of Kamakwie in order to have any name at all. He was born on the 5th of March. By the 23rd, his country, a place he had only just begun to discover, was under siege.
The Civil War lasted 11 years, enveloped the country, and left over 50,000 dead.
“Life was painful.
You had no freedom, you’re home all day everyday, you’re inside the house because even going into the backyard is dangerous.”
Known for their barbarity, the rebel soldiers held a reputation everyone feared. Being a child, indulging in being unaware and unguarded was a luxury Kalie did not have.
“Everyone knew you had to have an answer; short or long.
If the rebels caught you, they would ask you whether you wanted your arm cut off short or long.
They would take kids and give them cocaine to get them under their control and make them fight for them. If you were too sick or old they would just shoot you or chop off your arms, if you were a girl…”
Kalie doesn’t need to finish the sentence.
“They made the older people carry their equipment. If they got tired, they would put you in a building then set it on fire so everyone could see.
One day we heard the helicopter overhead. We thought it was the army, only the army has helicopters, so kids started running to where it was landing. My mother wouldn’t let us go, even though I really wanted to. My friends all ran towards to helicopter. We heard gunshots.
It wasn’t the army.”
The intensity of the fighting was growing right alongside him.
Excerpt from “Sa. Leonean Voters Defy Army, Rebel Intimidation and Atrocities in Massive Turn Out at the Polls.”Sierra Leone Progress. March 1996: 1, 2.
Meanwhile atrocities by rebels or sobels were being committed all over the country in an effort by these armed men to disrupt the elections and derail the democratic process. Attacks resulting in killings, chopping of limbs, fingers, hands, ears, noses and heads in addition to the destruction of property were reported all over the country as the nation prepared for elections. These attacks took place in the eastern, southern and northern provinces. For the first time Gbendembu, Kamakwie, Tonko Limba Mala near Makeni, Rokulan and Rokupr were attacked.
Faced with an increasing onslaught of bullets an bombs, Kalie’s parents had no choice but to take their family as far as they could. As they prepared to leave, Kamakwie became the focal point of the fighting.
Date: 14 May 1997
Reuters reports that rebels from the united revolutionary front (RUF) have captured the town of Kamakwie, 90 miles from Freetown, after seven hours of heavy fighting. Casualty figures were not available, but it is reported that many bodies were left lying in the streets. A peace accord was signed between the RUF and the government in November, designed to end the war which erupted in 1991.
Date: 16 May 1997
Paris AFP reports that attacks by the revolutionary united front have left at least 40 people dead this week. Ten people were reportedly killed in the northern town of Kamakwie, while earlier attacks in Bomaru left 30 others dead. In Bomaru, of the 30 injured civilians, most suffered from blunt wounds from machetes and other crude weapons. Refugees arriving in guinea said that several dozen civilians, mostly women and children, were massacred in northern Sierra Leone amid clashes between government and rebel forces.
Sierra Leonean rebels have captured the northern town of Kamakwie after heavy fighting which left many corpses in the streets, the army said Wednesday. Army spokesman Col. Abdul Sesay said rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) seized Kamakwie, 90 miles from the capital, Freetown, after seven hours of fighting Tuesday. “Government soldiers fought bravely to stop the rebels taking the town, but the rebels attacked in large numbers and they were also heavily armed,” Sesay told Reuters. He said corpses were left lying in the town but that casualty figures were unavailable for either side. Church sources who fled to the northern regional capital Makeni, 55 miles from Kamakwie, reported that many people were killed in the fighting. “I ran past 18 bodies as I escaped. Many of them were young boys, about 14 to 16 years old, carrying guns and machetes. But there were also the bodies of soldiers and civilians,” said one church source who asked not to be named. Military sources say the army has been overstretched by more than 10 attacks on northern towns and villages by RUF forces in the past week.
Date: Thu, 15 May 1997 21:22:33 -0500
From: Don Carter <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Bad news about Kamakwie
You may have heard but I will pass this on anyway.
Just heard from my mom. She passed on the following information.
Our Wesleyan Mission Hospital at Kamakwie was looted two days ago by the rebels along with the Pharmacy and the Dispensary. Everything was taken and the mission homes were burned. Sixty houses in the town have been burned and six people killed. The rebels came two days ago and are still there. There are 8,000 refugees inMakeni at the Wesleyan Conference center. The US Wesleyan Church has sent $5,000 out to provide food and medical supplies for the people in Makeni. The Kamakwie hospital was very well known all over West Africa.
A few days ago they burned the town of Pbendembu [Gbendembu] where I lived and destroyed the town and all but two of the mission buildings. Several people were killed and some were taken by the rebels, God knows where. This is the third town they have hit in a week. Thought you would like to know.
They ran. Between burning houses and bodies sprawled in the streets, they ran.
Kalie’s mother had relatives in Guinea, so with no time to make plans, they headed straight for the border, praying they would not be stopped along the way.
Fighting Causes Sierra Leonean Refugees to Cross into Guinea
Wendy Lubetkin, USIA Staff Writer
Document provided by www.reliefweb.int
Source: United States Information Agency
Date: 23 May 1997
The resumption of fighting in Sierra Leone has caused at least 6,000 refugees to cross into Guinea, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which said May 23 that it is temporarily suspending all repatriation efforts to Sierra Leone. UNHCR said the new influx of refugees to Guinea began last week, and appears to be associated with the fall of the town of Kamakwie to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Guinea hosts 250,000 Sierra Leonean refugees out of a total of 380,000 who fled their country between 1991 and 1996. The remaining Sierra Leonean refugees are in Liberia (120,000) and The Gambia (4,000). UNHCR began repatriating refugees to Sierra Leone on a small scale in February 1997 and had hoped to begin a large-scale repatriation later in the year. “We have suspended all repatriation movements to Sierra Leone for the time being,” said UNHCR spokeswoman Pam O’Toole.
The refugee camp they found themselves in was another war for the family to live through.
“The bullets weren’t there but was just like being in the war.
You had to hustle, you couldn’t relax. When the supply trucks came, it was a big fight, there was not enough food so you had to line up at 3am and then fight everyone just for enough to feed the family of 5.
You fought for your food, you had to be careful around the tent…”
Enduring years of living in the blue UNHCR tents, returning home was not a possibility for Kalie and his family. Attacks were continuing, bodies were piling up, and the humanitarian crises was only picking up steam.
Humanitarian crisis reported in S.Leone as peace forum opens.” Agence France-Presse. 7 April 1999.
President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone appealed to the conscience of rebels at a peace forum Wednesday, as reports of a humanitarian disaster in the north of the war-ravaged state reached the capital.
Hundreds of thousands civilians trapped in the northern provincial town of Kamakwie in the Sella Limba Chiefdom were said to be facing one of the worst crises since civil war broke out in 1991.
“More than 20 people die every day in Kamakwie (120 kilometers/75 miles north of Freetown) because of hunger, lack of medical attention and atrocities caused by the rebels,” said Amadu Kamara, who arrived in the capital on Wednesday.
“Even the reserve foods that were left behind by non-governmental organisations have been carted away by rebels in various attacks,” Kamara said.
He said there were no drugs at the Kamakwie health centre and that all health officials have fled the town.
“Many of the wounded and sick are being treated by native doctors,” he added.
Fighters of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) stand accused of waging a terror campaign against civilians, looting villages and raping and mutilating inhabitants.
With no hope of returning, Kalie’s family was grateful to be told UNHCR was sending them to Australia, however that presented challenges in and of itself.
“It was so hard to come here. Everything is different, the people are different. I felt different. It was very hard to live with other people, everyone here is so separate, back home we all talk and see each other, here no one would come out of their houses, no one wanted to talk.”
I can’t help but reflect on how he couldn’t come out of his house in case bullets were flying. What excuse do we have for not wanting to be around each other?
It’s not unusual for people, especially young people, in Kalie’s position to have great difficulty adjusting to life in Australia after being in such extreme environments, however Kalie found an outlet.
That outlet was basketball.
Hearing Kalie describe how he felt upon discovering the game is akin to reciting the Big Bang Ballers mission statement, word for word.
“I just loved it. Once I was on the court, all I concentrated on was the game. I didn’t worry about anything else, it didn’t matter who anyone else playing was. We were all playing this game, we were all focused on this one thing.”
I found Kalie playing in a local competition; this skinny kid was a little shy, a little hesitant, a little reserved. Someone had told him who the Big Bangs were and what we did, and despite his shyness, he came right up and introduced himself and offered to help.
This kid, this young stick of a child who still bore the pain of Statelessness and conflict on his face had no reservations about offering to volunteer.
Since that first day, Kalie has continued to amaze and inspire me.
From volunteering for the Big Bangs in Australia, and thereby qualifying to be sponsored to play basketball, Kalie has risen through the ranks from a Rookie to now running our Night Hoops program in Canberra and our Youth Justice Program.
From a skinny, goofy kid he has developed into a young leader, refined his game and qualified to join a Touring Team on scholarship from the Big Bangs to tour the USA and some of the best basketball programs in December 2013. He has grown physically, emotionally and mentally, and although his goofiness remains, he has become an outstanding ambassador of both our organisation and his people.
Kalie has shown resilience and resolve beyond his years; he has demonstrated a commitment to the Big Bangs that is as inspiring as it is impressive.
In our family we don’t often speak of each other’s pain.
You should know that it’s there, though, but our family, our team stays strong for one another, because today, tomorrow, perhaps next week, we’ll find more and more kids who are going through pain, who have been through hell and back, and it’s the strength and unity we provide for one another that gets us through experiences no one should ever have.
My Team Is Strong, and I am so very proud that Kalie is on my Team.
Kalie is being sponsored to go to the USA in December 2013 with the wonderful crew from Impact Basketball. He will be coached by some of the best in the business, and will play in front of college coaches and team scouts. We need to raise $14,000.00 for Kalie by November 2013. If you would like to donate, head to our donate page and specify KALIE in the donation box. Any help goes a long way.