The civil war in Sierra Leone (1991-2002) not only killed more than 50,000 people, it also led to thousands of innocent civilians having legs, arms or hands forcibly amputated by rebel soldiers. Or removed by landmines and bullets.
The Flying Star Amputees are a group of football teams across Sierra Leone born out of the adversity of this war.
All the players are victims of civil war amputations, and football has helped to bring them some degree of happiness, confidence and hope for a better future for disabled people in Sierra Leone. The rebels who committed these atrocities still live in the population. They could be a neighbour. So while the country collectively made the decision to forgive the rebels in order to move forward as a nation, the players told me that they can never forget. They physically live with the reminder and the ghosts of their past every day.
With no help from the government and amputees often viewed negatively within society, the players feel at home on the football pitch where they can spend time with their fellow amputees. Able to share common experiences and emotions.
Umaru Sandi is the Captain of the Flying Stars team in the city of Bo. He was 5 years old when the rebels attacked his village, forcing them to run into the surrounding bush. Days later Nigerian ECOMOG soldiers entered the city to drive them out. Hiding in the bush and caught in the crossfire, shrapnel tore into Umaru’s foot after bullets from a large calibre gun struck a nearby tree. His Uncle managed to carry him through the Nigerian lines to a government hospital. But with services stretched well past their limit and no medication, his leg started to rot. At which point they made the decision to amputate his leg in order to save his life.