The haunting accounts of survivors of the 2017 mudslide in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. At 6am on the 14th August 2017, a hillside collapsed on the outskirts of Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown. The collapse, caused by 3 days of torrential rain, triggered a mudslide, which engulfed residential houses, killing hundreds of people. A year has passed since the disaster, but questions remain of whether the government has done enough to stop the illegal building of houses on the unstable hillsides, and whether climate change will lead to more incidents like this. As memories of the mudslide fade, for the survivors affected, the grief, loss and struggle remain ever present in their daily lives. Below is the story of 3 survivors:
Perching on a wooden bench directly in front of the corrugated iron structure that her young family now calls home, Adama (25) explains that she’s had to build an extra wall to block the clear view of the Regent hillside, a constant reminder of the mudslide that tore her family apart. It is clear how painful it is for her to recall the destructive event that happened just over a year ago, but she wants her story to be heard.
“In the early hours of August 14th 2017, me and my husband were asleep in the house with our four young children and our elder relatives,” says Adama.
She continues: “The rain was particularly heavy that night, and in the early hours, the whole area suddenly darkened, I was unable to see anyone or anything around me.
“My home began to fill with water at an uncontrollable speed. We tried to get to higher ground. Me and three of my children were standing on slightly safer ground when my husband was lifting the fourth child to safety. As he passed our youngest girl to me, a neighbour shouted to warn of a heavy surge of water. The force knocked my husband off his feet and I saw him go with the water.”
Left alone in the chaos with her four young children, knowing she had lost everything she owned and her husband, she began to breakdown and cry. She knew she needed to get her children higher. As they exhaustively climbed, they came across an Aunt who had come to search for them; Adama and her children broke down, explaining they had lost their father. Her Aunt guided them as they attempted to find refuge.
Adama’s husband was the main breadwinner of the family, her young children are now unable to attend school, she is trying her best but the gardening work she does around the community will not be enough.
Her makeshift house is in a community which does not have any government schools, so all local education must be paid for, when asking Adama whether it was a possibility for the future, she says she has tried to negotiate and enroll her children but it will be unlikely.
Street Child has supplied Adama with the uniform and materials should she be able to find a solution. When asked what the future holds for her young family, Adama admits that for the foreseeable, she is completely reliant on charity.
“I left for work in the early hours of the 14th August. I was at the market buying things to trade when I heard the news that the mudslide had hit my community. I dropped all my belongings and just ran home,” says Zinaba.
She explains: ”When I got there, I saw nothing and met no one. My home was gone. There was just a large stone marking the area. I lost all my relatives. I was alone.”
Zinaba’s friend accompanied her to a government camp, where Zinaba stayed and was given support and food from charitable organisations. The Red Cross gave her a small amount of money, which enabled her to mourn her lost relatives by setting up a small memorial.
When the camp stay came to an end, Zinaba’s friend kindly offered her to stay in her house. After the stay in the camp, Zinaba discovered she was pregnant but the father has denied any responsibility of the baby. The friend has had to step in again and provide support for Zinaba and her baby who is now just a few weeks old. “With Street Child’s support, I will set up a small business to raise funds for my baby. I thank god for Street Child and my friends kindess,” says Zinaba. She adds: “I pray that life will change as it’s very difficult. I wish my mother was still alive as I always turned to her.”
Last August Fanta’s youngest child was admitted to hospital, during their stay, Fanta received the devastating news that her community had been destroyed by the mudslide, engulfing the land in mud and water. Fanta grabbed her sick daughter, and without seeking approval from the doctors, she ran hoping to find her family.
“When I arrived, my home that I lived in with my father had vanished. No one had survived. My father and relatives were dead. I was 22 at the time, and I knew that I was now left alone to care for my two children,” explains Fanta.
The father of Fanta’s children had died years before, so now having lost her own father, Fanta had to find somewhere to go. “A man offered me and my children some accommodation. I was given no choice but to marry this man, otherwise my children would not have a roof over their heads,” says Fanta.
In an attempt to provide the very basics for her children, Fanta has been breaking stones by hand to make gravel and sell, she says the income is sporadic and she constantly hopes someone will come to buy it.
Fanta’s new house looks directly on to the face of the mudslide, a constant reminder of the devastation caused last August. Fanta said her son struggles with the loss of his Grandfather; he will sometimes go down to the site of their old house and cry.
Fanta adds: “Before the mudslide, my son was able to attend school. He has now missed out on a year of his education. Street Child has helped supply my family with school materials and now I hope I can send him next month.
“I pray to God that he will give my family strength. I pray to God that he will send a buyer for my stones.”
It’s taken me a while to think about how I want to communicate what the next couple of months will hold.. which seems silly given my chosen career, so here I am writing about it.
Where to start.. I guess it’s important to me that during my time in Sierra Leone, I don’t only communicate what I’m doing, who I meet or what I see through official articles and videos, I think I will want to write about it more personally, to keep people at home updated and as a way of understanding it for myself.
So I’ve had a few people asking what I do and what I will be doing in Sierra Leone, I’ve decided to write a little blog on what I’ve been up to and what I will be up to so if you want to hear some rambling read on..
A little background… when I was17 I applied to a scheme which placed me working with young people in a South African township, it was a major shock to the system. I was living in some really difficult conditions but completely fell in love with the community and the people I met – I was under no illusion that the community had major issues but nonetheless I was captivated by the resilience of the people I was introduced to. The scheme was run very poorly so I made some important contacts, then left early and returned to the UK.
I knew I wasn’t done with my work in South Africa so I set up a small charity mission in the UK which raised more than I could have imagined.. and with some incredible support I returned months later and had a busy four weeks where I renovated 3 nursery schools, worked with teenage mums, HIV/AIDS orphans, victims of rape and abuse, and ran an after school scheme for children that would have otherwise been on the street. Other than the contacts I had made on my previous visit, I was basically on my own and it gave me a real introduction to working in the developing world, from issues with border control (trust me I’ve sat on the floor of Cape Town airport begging them to release donations) through to navigating my way through some really hostile situations, as a young white girl in a town ship, it was a real eye opener to the issues faced by aid workers around the world.
I’m under no illusion that South Africa is a rare case.. despite the corruption and crime, down the road I had the option of returning to a community which was fairly developed with many of the home comforts that were at times no doubt needed.. and I’m also under no illusion that these won’t be available to me next month.
Anyway.. I guess I took a lot away from my trips to Zwelihle, but the main things were A) THE INEQUALITY – its 2018 people!!! B) how poorly communicated the issues faced by these people are.. if I didn’t stumble across the opportunity to be thrown into life in a South African township, I wouldn’t understand the daily struggle people around the world go through to get the very basics we take for granted.. water, food, an education.
It baffles me that in our globalised world of 2018, the media isn’t effectively communicating these issues with young people in the developed world.. how are people like me supposed to even think about making a change if they’re not aware of the issues in the first place. So I guess that very complicated idea is what drove me to get into development journalism.
3 years on and I’ve loved every minute of starting out in the journo world, from writing about global development for the Thomson Reuters Foundation through to working in communications for NGO Street Child.. I’ve had a very interesting insight into international development and the media.
In 2 weeks I will be leaving London for Sierra Leone, this will be my first time visiting West Africa and I have mixed emotions. Sierra Leone is a country that has faced some extremely tough times; civil war, Ebola and the devastating mudslides. I will be working alongside some incredible local organisations and my time will mostly be split between two roles:
– I will be in the slum communities around Freetown getting content (print, video, photography) on life post natural disaster, maternal health and child welfare in the developing world. I am extremely grateful that I will be able to meet these resilient people and gain an insight into their lives. Again, I’m under no illusion that this will also be extremely tough.
– The other side of my work will be looking at international media and the relationship with NGO’s, so long story short how we, as UK citizens, access news from the developing world, and how ethical it is.
So that’s whats going on in September.. I know that there are so many amazing people fighting for good out there, (I’ve met a fair few along the way!) and I’m also aware that as a single person the change I can have will be minimal, however I hope by telling the stories of these people in an accessible way, I make the issues faced slightly more tangible to those at home.
I suppose I don’t really know where to begin with how I feel about this next adventure, I am mostly overwhelmed by the support I’ve had and I guess the main emotion is gratitude. I want to say a massive thank you to my friends in the journo and developing world for all the hours of advice and contacts (Fallon – I’m looking at you!) a thank you to my mentor at CNN who has definitely given me the confidence to do this, and finally a massive thank you to my family and friends, especially my parents for being the most supportive people in the world and encouraging me to do what I love, even though they’re more terrified than me.. I love you endlessly!
Anyway if you’ve got this far, thank you for listening to me ramble in my first ever blog (very aware this has been me me me – the next ones won’t be!), I’ll be back with news from Freetown.