Win­nipeg­gers griev­ing loss of fam­i­lies in Sierra Leone

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - CAROL SAN­DERS carol.san­ders@freep­

S the death toll from mud­slides and flood­ing in Sierra Leone climbs to 1,000, one Win­nipeg­ger is com­ing to grips with los­ing most of her fam­ily in the lat­est dis­as­ter to hit the west African coun­try.

Ma­hawa Con­teh lost 14 mem­bers of her fam­ily in the cap­i­tal of Free­town, when their homes were hit by the del­uge com­ing down the moun­tain.

“When you hear that your loved ones — your fam­ily — all died the same day, that’s too much,” Con­teh said be­tween sobs on Wed­nes­day.

Con­teh, who came to Canada in 2012, is not alone in her grief.

On Fri­day night, mem­bers of the Sierra Leone Nationals As­so­ci­a­tion of Man­i­toba will hold a vigil for Sierra Leone at Knox United Church down­town at 7 p.m.

To as­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent Abu Bakarr

AKa­mara, the dis­as­ter has been for­got­ten by the news me­dia since it hap­pened on Aug. 14 — the fo­cus is now on trop­i­cal storm Har­vey, which by Wed­nes­day had killed 30 peo­ple in Texas.

In Sierra Leone’s cap­i­tal city, the gov­ern­ment ini­tially re­ported 450 dead and 600 miss­ing. Now church and community lead­ers are say­ing the death toll is at 1,000 and an es­ti­mated 3,000 peo­ple are home­less. Ka­mara said there’s no in­sur­ance or any­thing that comes close to the Amer­i­cans’ Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, which is help­ing peo­ple in the storm-hit Gulf Coast re­gion.

Along with the vigil, the as­so­ci­a­tion is hold­ing a fundrais­ing car wash on Sept. 9 and is ask­ing Man­i­to­bans to do­nate to char­i­ties help­ing peo­ple in Sierra Leone.

“Peo­ple need us to help,” Ka­mara said.

Ka­mara is send­ing money to his sis­ter and her fam­ily, who lost their home in the mud­slide and are stay­ing with cousins. He said des­per­ate strangers who lost ev­ery­thing in the dis­as­ter are on Face­book, reach­ing out to Sierra Leonese-Cana­di­ans for help.

“Not every­one has rel­a­tives in Canada,” Ka­mara said.

It’s not the first time this community in Man­i­toba has ral­lied to pray for their for­mer home and to sup­port lo­cal peo­ple deal­ing with shock and grief. Two years ago, Sierra Leone was hit by the deadly Ebola out­break. It saw some 14,000 cases of the grisly virus, which killed al­most 4,000 peo­ple.

Now, in the af­ter­math of Ebola, peo­ple with loved ones in Sierra Leone — such as Con­teh — are griev­ing again.

The mud­slides killed her un­cles, their wives and chil­dren in Free­town in a hor­rific man­ner, she said.

“It was the way they died,” said Con­teh, who has two preschool-age chil­dren. She’s most haunted by the im­age of her preg­nant aunt, who was due to give birth this month.

“When they found her body, the legs were gone,” she said, try­ing to wait for her hus­band to get home from work and take the kids so she could cry with­out them see­ing her so up­set.

“Kids al­ways want to see their par­ents happy.”

Con­teh said her Free­town rel­a­tives who weren’t home at the time of the mud­slide all sur­vived, but they’re now home­less and des­ti­tute.

“They don’t know where their house is,” she said.

“Ev­ery­thing was wiped out. The place looked like a field.”

Con­teh works part time and is look­ing for more hours so she can send more money to help them. “It’s so stress­ful. It’s too much.”

Where to do­nate

The Sierra Leone Nationals As­so­ci­a­tion of Man­i­toba is or­ga­niz­ing a vigil, called Night of Prayer for Sierra Leone, at Knox United Church (400 Ed­mon­ton St.) Fri­day at 7 p.m.

The as­so­ci­a­tion is ac­cept­ing ma­te­rial do­na­tions from the pub­lic to as­sist in the re­cov­ery ef­fort. Con­tact Simeon Ganda, chair­man of the dis­as­ter re­lief com­mit­tee at (204) 951-4250.

On Sept. 9, as­so­ci­a­tion vol­un­teers will be wash­ing cars to raise money all day at the Domo gas bar (1441 Hen­der­son Hwy.)

Reg­is­tered char­i­ties help­ing Sierra Leone in­clude:

The Hu­man­i­tar­ian Coali­tion — Canada’s lead­ing aid agen­cies that fi­nance re­lief ef­forts in times of in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian crises; see hu­man­i­tari­an­coali­ or call (toll-free): 1-855-461-2154

Cana­dian Catholic Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Peace and De­vel­op­ment (Car­i­tas) see or call (toll-free) 1-888-234-8533


Abu Bakarr Ka­mara, pres­i­dent of the Sierra Leone Nationals As­so­ci­a­tion of Man­i­toba, says peo­ple in Sierra Leone need help in the af­ter­math of mud­slides and flood­ing ear­lier this month. The as­so­ci­a­tion is hold­ing a vigil Fri­day.

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